I talk about stretching a lot, but I think “stretching” is a little bit of a misnomer. When I say stretching, what I really mean is relieving tension in the body.
I think it’s an important distinction, and here’s why:
Stretching is a method, but the overarching goal is to relieve tension. Stretching is putting muscles under strain, to loosen them up. It’s also very far from the only way to do this.
If you’ve ever experienced a massage, that’s not stretching. It probably relieved tension though. A massage is not stretching, a massage is a variety of techniques. Maybe they’re giving myofascial release, applying pinpoint pressure, using intense sonic vibrations, etc etc.
If you’ve ever used a heating pad, that’s not stretching. Once again though, relieves tension. It’s another method. I hope this doesn’t sound needlessly patronising, because I’m heading somewhere.
I’m gonna stop talking in the abstract now, but please keep in mind I’m not educated on this stuff. It’s mostly what I’ve figured out by doing. Here are some methods/techniques I’ve found that work for me with a “What”, “How” and “Why”:
What: Dynamic stretching – Instead of staying static and holding a position, I’ll move in and out of the position.
How: Instead of holding my foot behind my bum to stretch my knee, I’ll kick my heel back, then return it to the ground, and repeat this a bunch of times.
Why: Sometimes joints and muscles are stiff, and by moving into the stretch instead of just holding it, it allows the tension to be broken up gently and gradually, rather than by forcing it. This one is great to use in conjunction with static stretching, because it often opens up pathways that then can be further explored by static stretching.
What: Heat – warming up an area to reduce tension in that area.
How: Hot baths, showers, heating pads. If those things aren’t accessible, I’ve honestly taken to just rubbing the area really vigorously.
Why: Heat works. It’s often far more gradual than other methods, but it feels relaxing and probably takes the least effort out of anything I’ve mentioned so far.
What: Pinpoint pressure – Instead of stretching an area, figuring out where the central point of pain is, and applying increasing pressure until it dissipates.
How: Using an object with a small, firm tip (a thumb would probably be most common, but elbows and balls (tennis, lacrosse, rubber/bouncy) are great too. I’ll use literally anything I can find. The corner of a table, a block of wood or brick), press that tip into the affected spot. Apply pressure to your tastes/pain tolerance. You can start small and gradually apply more pressure, or if you get off on pain, you can just push really hard.
Why: It’s probably one of the most effective and quick techniques, but it generally takes more knowledge and experience than others here. You need to understand how to track down the point of pain, and withstand the constant sensation that comes with it. I do a ton of this, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.
What: Vibration – Vigorously vibrating or shaking the tense area.
How: Instead of bending at the waist with a straight leg to stretch the back of my leg, I’ll shake the leg out vigorously. Or if you had something like a car buffer (don’t laugh, it works), Hitachi Magic Wand- or honestly any powerful sex toy- that would be quite effective. I just don’t have those things.
Why: This is great for breaking up residual lactic acid and associated etc. Stuff that’s lingering around and getting in the way of being able to stretch deeper. TBH I tend to use this one as a way to further static stretching rather than a solo technique, but it’s also great for post deep stretch, moving blood back into areas before you put weight on them. This is incredibly helpful for injury prevention.
What: Tapotement. This is less of a technique to fix things, but more to figure out where problem areas are.
How: You just kinda… slap or hit the area? I’m not talking about hurting myself, but short quick slaps or taps that ripple through an area. If you feel tiny twinges in certain areas as the slap ripples through, they’re good spots to look to take care of with another method.
Why: Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. I sorta liken this one to radar or echolocation. Putting out stimulation that triggers a response, which tells you where to look.
So when I say that I stretch all the time, I’m actually talking about using a ton of methods and techniques with the overall goal of relieving tension and stress throughout my body. None of these is better than another, they just have different applications. Sometimes a one method will be great, and at other times that same method will be an ineffective tool. You can swap between methods and apply different techniques on the fly, and it’s a fantastic way of pushing past blocks to get at dense, underlying issues. When I’m “stretching”, I’m combining the above stuff constantly:
I might use one technique for five minutes, switch to another for 30 seconds, then onto another one for the next ten minutes.
I might oscillate between static and dynamic stretching.
I might be in a static stretch, rub the affected area vigorously to use heat, then notice just how much further I can stretch after ten seconds of said heat.
I might spend 5 minutes doing pinpoint pressure, shake the area out to get rid of anything that’s lingering, then go back to the pinpoint stuff. If I feel like I’ve worked a spot totally out with pinpoint work, I might try tapotement to see if there are any other spots where pinpoint would be beneficial, then apply it. Maybe I’ll realise that I’m experiencing tension in that area because there’s tension further along the chain. Say, my knee is sore because my adductor (stretches from the knee to the groin) is tight, and I’ll do a static stretch on that out to lessen the tension. Once I’ve done this, I’ll sway through my hips with dynamic stretching. Then tapotement to figure out where pinpoint would be effective, and alleviate a spot that was too tense to get into before.
The point is to relieve tension. Whatever gets you there, gets you there. The only way to figure out what’s gonna help is to try it. If it works, great. If it’s not helping, try something else. Worst case scenario you’re back to whatever you already know works.
And this is how I lose two hours working on a single hand. Whatever, we’re in a pandemic. Time no longer exists.
Have fun, and let me know how you get on.