Right before your early morning run, you step outside in the brisk cold and start to stretch your calves and hamstrings to prepare for your long run. After your run, you take some time to again stretch those same muscles that you worked. You continue this same routine day in and day out, and begin to notice that your before and after run stretches become much more painful and it makes it even harder for you to enjoy your runs. What’s going on here? You guessed it…overstretched muscles.
Stretching cold muscles, especially major ones that you will be using for an activity such as running, without first raising the core temperature of your body will cause overstretched muscles or even minor muscle strains over time. When this happens, it can increase the amount of time it takes for you to gain flexibility because you continue to damage and re-damage those same muscles.
With overstretching and muscle strains, micro tears along the muscle or tendons will present themselves. Physiologically, when stretching too aggressively or on cold muscles, a stretch reflex takes place. This is an automatic response from your nervous system. The nerve fibers, which are being stretched, will send a signal to the muscles to contract against the strong pull of the muscle. This results in a pulled muscle, which when repeated leads to overstretched muscles and also low athletic performance.
Most studies show that muscles will heal from a minor tear while in a shortened state, so this will limit your flexibility. However, backing off on your stretching routine or doing light stretches can lessen your chance of losing flexibility over time.
A great way to warm up the body, work at your own pace and level of flexibility and still get in a nice stretch is a YTU pose called Stir the Pot. This can be a very slow movement that will allow you to feel when you might come to close over stretching some of those rotator cuff muscles, but I feel is safe enough, because while you are stretching, you are also hugely strengthening many of the supporting muscles that allow this movement to happen. I’ve attached the pose below, and you can also see it on the 5 Minute Quick Fix for Shoulders video.
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