Did you know that for all of the attention we yogis place on the topic of stretching, there are a lot( countless !) unsupported creeds about this simple activity that permeate the yoga world? I’ve shielded several delusions about elongating before and will continue to do so, such as 😛 TAGEND
-stretching& strengthening are inverses —> belief!
-stretching a muscle “releases” it —> delusion!
-stretching our connective material can prolong it out so it becomes slipshod —> delusion!
But today I’d like to focus on one illusion in particular that I don’t imagine I’ve addressed recently. This myth is the common claim that pulling cripples our muscles.
We often hear this claim in the form of informs like “stop stretching your hamstrings because it lessens them”. Or “sitting slackens your glutes”( because they’re in a stretched orientation when you’re sitting in a chair ).
This claim is also at the root of ideologies about posture, such as rounded-forward shoulders( often referred to as “upper swept syndrome” ), in which we’re told that the rhomboids( mid-back muscles) are “long& weak” because they’re in a stretched position.
Now if you know my work at all, you know I’m a huge proponent of yogis incorporating strength into their yoga practice. And a significant portion of the yoga nature seems to be moving in this direction as well, which constitutes me very happy!
But as with all perspective switchings, the pendulum tends to swing toward extremes before it sets somewhere in the more anchored, evidence-based middle. Along with the pervasive rage for enhancing, there is a large amount of fearmongering about passive extend taking place in the yoga macrocosm today.
Although strengthening is indeed awesome for us, this doesn’t mean that stretching is bad for us. And if you refer back to the common stories I listed above, you’ll note that stretching& strengthening aren’t inverses anyway, so there’s no need for us to pit them against one another. We can be pro-strengthening without being anti-stretching!
Which creates me back to today’s stretching myth. One common allegation we hear that yields the mistaken impression that stretching is bad for us is the myth that elongating deteriorates our muscles. I’d like to bust this myth once and for all, expending the handy tool of muscle physiology.
What is the one channel in which muscles become stronger? When they sicken against a high enough resistance that they are provoked to adapt to increase the amount of force they can generate. Our muscles strengthen when they do strong employment: lowering gradually into chaturanga, moving ponderous forces around, etc.
Knowing this, what is therefore the one lane in which muscles become weaker? The one and only way that muscles change weaker is when they don’t do strengthening handiwork. That’s it! If we don’t expose our muscles to progressive loads, they will weaken.
Whether we extend or not has nothing to do with muscles strengthening or slackening. Strengthening has to do with force production, while elongate has to do with tissue extensibility. These are two separate qualities.
The claim that stretching muscles slackens them is fully unsupported by science. Which means that we now have one less reason to fearmonger about stretching! 🙂
For a deeper dive into what we do( and don’t) know about unfold, consider my online mini-workshop How Stretching Affects the Tissues of the Body. As many yogis who have taken this workshop have uttered, this should be required info for ALL yoga teachers!
My mentor Jules Mitchell’s brand new book Yoga Biomechanics: Stretching Redefined is also an excellent, thorough aid on all things pulling. I most recommend it!
Read more: jennirawlings.com