Power stretching is used when you want to develop quick reflexive responses.

The concept behind power stretching is simple – a stretched muscle will respond by activating its muscle fibers to contract. This stretch reflex protects a muscle from being damaged and acts as an automatic mechanism for maintaining posture by responding to the slight swaying of the body.

The nerves that serve the stretch reflex do not need to use the upper part of your brain to work – they use the lower part of the Central Nervous System located in the lumbar (lower back) area of your spine. This means you can train a stretch reflex to be automated – you don’t have to use the thinking and processing parts of your brain.

An example of an automatic stretch reflex is the patella tendon reflex. Sit down and cross your left leg over your right. Relax both legs. Now hit the tendon just below your patella (knee cap) with the side of your hand. You’ll find that your quadriceps muscle (on the front of your thigh) will automatically contract in response, and your lower leg will jump forwards.

Today we’re going to use these stretch reflexes to activate muscles towards the improved speed of contraction and force of contraction.

The technique is simple:

  • Warm up the muscle thoroughly through low intensity, rhythmical movements.
  • Activate the muscle by putting it under a slight stretch for about five seconds.
  • Go straight into your activity.

Sounds simple? That’s because it is simple! It’s simple, and yet it’s seldom used because somehow or another over the last 10 years all the exercise instructors became fixated on stretching for flexibility, and forgot about all the other uses of stretching.

Runners have always instinctively had it right. They always seem to give their lower body short, sharp stretching and a good warm-up before they head off for their run, rather than go through elaborate stretching routines.

The early preparation phase of an exercise session is to get the muscles warm and keep them warm, get the joints mobile, and activate the neuromuscular reflexes.

Forget all that long involved stretching before you exercise as it causes the opposite responses – cools the muscles down, stiffens the joints, and deadens the muscles.

The best place for this type of stretching is after exercise in the recovery phase.

Power stretching: Here is a simple power stretching routine you can do before any type of exercise, sport, or physical recreation activity. It will “waken” your muscles to give you increased strength, power, mobility, and agility.

Warm-up your muscles by going for a short walk and swinging your arms, or going through some calisthenics movements, or some Tai Chi or slow kata, or spend a couple of minutes on a rowing machine or treadmill.

1. Calves

Face a wall or a tree, and lean against it. Slide one foot back until the heel just leaves the ground. Use your body weight to push the heel back to the ground. You’ll feel the muscle resist for several seconds, then relax. As soon as it relaxes you have achieved your aim of activating the neuromuscular reflex, so move on to the calf muscles of the other leg.

2. Hamstrings

Support one leg on a bench or rail that is about hip height or slightly lower. Bend the knees and keep the back straight, and then bend forwards slightly from the hips until you feel a stretch in the hamstring muscles at the back of your thigh. Hold the stretch until the tension releases, then try the other leg.

3. Quadriceps

Stand upright, and bend your right knee to bring the foot up behind you towards your buttocks. You may need to hold some support if your balance isn’t good, as you’re now standing on one leg. Grab the foot of the right leg to create a stretch in the muscles at the front of your thigh. Hold the leg behind you until the tension releases, then try the other leg.

4. Adductors

Stand upright, then gradually move your legs wide apart to the side until you feel a slight stretch in the muscles of your inner thigh. Unlock the right knee, then hold the stretch until the tension releases, then try the other leg.

5. Rear shoulders

Stand upright again, and then lace your fingers together. Push your arms out in front until you feel a stretch at the back of your shoulders. Hold the stretch until the tension releases.

6. Front shoulders

Put your arms behind your back, then lace your fingers together again. Push your shoulders back and extend your arms behind you until you feel a stretch across the front of your shoulders or chest. Hold the stretch until the tension releases.

7. Torso

Put your arms above your head, then lace your fingers together once again. Push your shoulders up and extend your arms upwards and slightly to the side until you feel a stretch along the side of your body. Hold the stretch until the tension releases, then move your arms slightly to the other side.

This routine should take five minutes or less. Don’t spend any longer at it or your muscles will start to cool down, leaving you open to injury.

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