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Should I Stretch or Strengthen? You Could Be Doing More Harm

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Stretching has several positive benefits. Like anything stretching can be overdone. When we have tight muscles, the initial reaction is usually to stretch. Sometimes the feeling of tight muscles can be stability and strength issues opposed to flexibility.

Underlying Issue

Take a step back before we go stretching everything and let’s try and determine the underlying problem. It is advised to do this with a professional such as a physiotherapist. You want to compare the difference between active and passive range of motion. Active has no external forces being applied and passive includes external forces being applied (like pushing on a joint with your hand). If there are huge differences it can be a sign of strength issues rather than flexibility because your joint has the capacity for the range of motion when you help it. But you lack the strength to get there unless you passively move the joint.

Assessment Example

Many people find they have tight hamstrings. Let’s look at the stretch where you lie on your back and do a straight leg raise. Can you get to 90 degrees? If you actively get to 90 degrees, likely stretching would be okay. On the other hand, if passively it is easy to get to 90 degrees and actively it is a struggle that is an indication of strength issues.

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Solution

Isometrics can be a great tool for fixing the strength and stability issues. Looking at our hip flexors if you struggle to actively lift your knee higher than 90 degrees (parallel with your waist). But passively (pulling your knee up with your hands) you can get higher or closer to your chest the flexibility is there, but the strength is not. Use isometrics to slowly build up the active capacity.

For instance, actively lift your knee up, hold at the top for 30 seconds. Apply downwards pressure with your hands so that you must hold an isometric contraction. Next, actively try and get a bit higher, rinse and repeat.

This will help your body to understand they range of motion is safe and force your muscles to work at the new range of motion as-well.

In the end it is very important to proper diagnose the underlying issue and address it approporately.

Author
Kafui Hotsonyame is the founder of Kafui Fitness https://kafuifitness.com. He is a health coach and entrepreneur with a goal of simplifying the clutter in the fitness industry.

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