Most runners stretch what is long and strengthen what is strong!
An overstretched or long muscle will always feel tight and feel as if it needs stretching, whereas a muscle that is shortened never feels tight.
When we do the full body assessment of clients struggling with chronic injuries, we literally measure the functional length of all the major muscles in the body. In an imbalanced body, we always find some muscles that are too long (over-stretched), while others are too short (over-used). The muscles which are too long, also show up as weak on our Bunkie Test and dysfunctional on functional screening.
Interesting to note is that when we ask athletes prior to the test which muscles in their opinion are short and need stretching, they would name all the muscles which eventually test long!
So why would that be the case?
The reason for this is twofold:
- Muscles all work in teams. If the one member of the team contracts, the other relaxes and lengthens. If the Quadriceps contracts, the hamstring lengthens. If the Quadriceps becomes shortened due to over-use, the hamstring will end up in the lengthened position and becomes weaker. The athlete will start focussing on runs and strength programs which will favour the stronger Quadriceps. As the hamstring becomes longer and weaker, it starts to feel tighter and eventually starts to cramp to keep up. This will happen more regularly on a flat run or a faster run where the hamstring is required to play a bigger role. With the inability to function properly in the lengthened position, one way in which the brain can assist is with muscle spasm which results in cramping. The athlete responds by stretching the hamstring in order to relieve the tight feeling and the vicious circle continues. I have so often in my career advised runners who complain of calf cramps to stop stretching their calf muscles immediately. A week or more later, I would receive an excited call from a surprised runner, telling me that their cramping has stopped!
- Locked fascia keeps overused muscles shorter and underused muscles longer. As soon as a specific muscle has to perform beyond its ability, the brain appoints the fascia -the connective tissue bag that surrounds and supports all muscles- to form a tighter (and shorter) bag around the muscle for extra support. This support system enables the muscle to contract stronger but the side effect is that the opposite muscle which has to lengthen in the process, now ends up in a permanently lengthened position.
Would the solution be to just stretch the muscle that has shortened, in order to reverse the process?
The problem is that once the fascia layers become ‘glued onto’ the overused muscle, stretching becomes ineffective and could even result in tissue damage. The focus here should shift towards the fascia and methods to release densified fascia.
There are many techniques today which focus on fascia release. Some are manual with the intention to physically facilitate movement of the fascia layers upon each other in order to free the muscle to move again. Other, of which the Lyno Method is one, have moved towards a more neurological approach where the aim is to convince the brain to release the fascia dencification in order to allow full function of the muscle. This is done by guiding the body through fully integrated movement sequences, which includes the area of fascia restriction, while at the same time activating neural receptors with a light stroke on the skin. The goal is to override the brain’s focus on the over-used muscle and to restore neutral function. Both approaches free up the muscle and restores full range of movement.
A fully functional body not only prevents injury but leads to top performance.
By looking at the body as a whole and securing full alignment and function of all the muscles, we do not only reduce the incidence of injury but also encourages longevity. By just following a random and under-supervised stretching and training program, one could easily fall into the trap of bad habits. The only way to prevent this, is by looking at your body as a whole.