If you’re a Focus Fan, you’ve heard the sound of countdown timers beeping randomly around the gym. G-Shocks going off at 60- and 90-second intervals…people are encouraging soft tissue changes with the help of their watches.
An athlete can’t have enough flexibility. Simply put, flexibility is about being able to achieve full range of motion without pain or difficulty. So how can a watch (even a fashionable and indestructible one) help improve an athlete’s flexibility and mobility?
In order for a stretch to reach the entire length of the muscle and into the muscle-tendon connections, you’ve got to take that tissue to its end-range and hang out there getting your brain involved. This is most effective with long-duration passive stretching with or without joint distraction.
This is where the G-Shock’s countdown timer comes in handy.
It takes at least two minutes to make quality soft-tissue change. So when it comes to “educating” your muscles, longer is better. Holding stretches for extended periods of time, allowing us to tap into the viscoelastic properties of the muscles–they need to stretch and deform under tension, and that takes time and repetition.
Flexibility isn’t permanent. A muscle’s elastic properties will eventually bring the tissue back to its original length. Lasting changes come from the adaptive remodeling of the connective tissues, not mechanical deformation. One study performed in South Africa showed that long-duration stretching every four hours was the most effective way to encourage changes in soft tissue (muscles).
When we stretch, the focus is on the muscle itself as well as where tendons and muscles meet. Muscle by nature is very pliant. By contrast, tendons are not. When you stretch a muscle, it radiates outward from the core of the muscle belly to where the muscle and tendon meet.
Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Your innate flexibility comes from several factors: joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscle. Some of us, for example, are simply born with looser ligaments and more mobile joints.
Within gym culture, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the affects of stretching. The main argument is that static stretching reduces performance from a strength and power standpoint.
When it comes to stretching to improve athletic performance, it’s best to think movement instead of standard, static trigger point mashing. Remember, it’s the movements and end range positions of movement that should guide how you stretch and mobilize your soft tissues.
Although opinions about the benefits of stretching are mixed, stretching can help you improve your joint range of motion, which in turn can help improve your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury. All this great stuff, simply from spending some time (a lot of time) stretching.