The Stretching Imperative
Stretching increases the length of muscle fibers. Individual muscle fibers can grow longer within a muscle because of the addition of sarcomeres, tiny contractile units, and the connective tissue in and around a muscle can expand, including the fascia that surrounds the bundles of muscle fibers.
Fascia is a band, or sheath, of connective tissue that supports, binds, covers and separates muscles and groups of muscles and organs. Nerves also respond to stretching. Nerves don’t take a straight course through the tissues that surround them. When stretched, however, they are pulled somewhat straight.
The meandering path of the individual fibers within a nerve can also be straightened in response to a stretch. The enveloping connective tissue has sufficient elasticity to accommodate some additional stretch without damaging the enclosed nerve fibers.
Strength training that uses full range of motion can help promote flexibility, but there are some motions that strength training doesn’t typically cover.
Furthermore, some strength-training exercises can’t be performed over the fullest possible range of motion without risk of injury. A good stretching routine can, however, cover those ranges of motion safely. If you don’t have a supple body, movement in general becomes restricted, the body has reduced resilience to withstand sudden movements safely, dynamic balance is impaired, and the body’s loose connective tissue loses its lubricating properties.
(Loose connective tissue fills the spaces between muscle, nervous and epithelial tissues and between bone and cartilage, tendons and ligaments, and joints and joint capsules.) Muscles lose some of their elasticity and ability to function smoothly, and tendons, ligaments and joint capsules become brittle. Tissues in general become more susceptible to injury, and the body ages at an accelerated rate.
Should you ever become excessively flexible, which is extraordinarily rare, ease back on stretching. The muscles will get shorter, and the connective tissues will soon follow suit. So what’s the best type of stretching?
Conventional stretching routines, provided they’re done safely and progressively, can produce excellent results. One of the best forms of stretching, perhaps the best, though, is hatha yoga. If done incorrectly, however, hatha yoga will produce injury. So warm up properly, and then perform a sequence of main postures intermingled with rest postures and compensation (or counter) postures, selected by an expert teacher.
You want to make progress slowly. Hatha yoga, which is composed mainly of physical postures, is one of the eight branches of yoga—the best known branch in the West. It’s an ancient system of exercise that’s revered by millions of people. It doesn’t require freak-show flexibility or have anything to do with chanting, gurus or religion. You don’t need to learn any strange jargon, Sanskrit names or New Age philosophy.
The practice of hatha yoga develops flexibility and promotes many other health benefits, and it’s for women and men. Some top athletes in professional sports have discovered its benefits