Commander's Fit Tip: It's a stretch: More tips for preventing major injuries

  • Published
  • By Col. Michael Panarisi
As we explored in the last message, flexibility is a key part of our overall fitness. Most workout routines actually reduce our flexibility over time, so we need to include stretching routines to counter tightness we'll experience as our workouts get more demanding. But before we look at a specific stretch let's review the rules.

Rule #1 - never make your muscles fight the stretch ... this means the most effective stretch routines start with positions that allow the muscle to relax as you stretch, instead of using the muscle for support during the stretch.

Rule #2 - a partner makes a BIG difference. If you are trying to relax for a stretch, having a partner do all the work for you makes the relax part much easier.

If you aren't expending energy, or trying to balance yourself during the stretch, you'll make progress much faster.

Are we ready to stretch?

Not just yet. Two more rules.

Rule #3 - an effective stretch takes time, at least 30 seconds, maybe up to a minute.

And Rule #4 - tired muscles stretch much more easily than fresh ones, so adding a stretch routine to the end of your workout really takes advantage of the time you spend in the gym.

Armed with the rules, let's hit what is likely the most troublesome muscle on the list ... the hamstring.

The hamstrings are so involved in so many functions; tightness in this area manifests itself in a whole range of maladies. The problem is they just don't feel tight in day to day activities. But the long term effect of tight hamstrings is real as they slowly but surely rotate your hips forward and increase the pressure on the discs in your back.

For many, the first indicator is an injury in the form of a "pulled hamstring" when you least expect it.

Fortunately, there are lots of moves out there to stretch this group, and most are very low risk and easy to perform.

The basic premise of any hamstring stretch is to apply force on the legs to bring the hip angle up to and beyond 90 degrees.

As we mentioned previously, the "bend over and touch your toes" will do just that, but it violates Rule #1 as your hamstrings are actually engaged as you bend over.

The "easy" fix?

Lie on your back and raise your leg instead. This engages the hip flexors and offers a convenient "pull" against the hamstrings. But we can improve this basic move.

Adding a partner to gently lift your leg to the point of initial resistance lets you totally relax during the stretch.

Sophisticates call this a "passive stretch" since it requires little or no effort on your part.

Only two tips.

During this move, it's important to keep your foot flexed. This adds a little helpful tension. And keeping your knee locked out helps you monitor or feel the pressure your partner is applying, and lets you keep modulate the pressure.

Note I said "pressure"...NOT PAIN.

We tend to stretch far too aggressively, and I've even seen folks grimacing during a stretch. Don't go there!

Not only are you risking a rupture or other injury, the pain response actually forces your muscle to fight the stretch to protect itself (remember Rule #1?).

So patience is the key ... gentle, constant pressure for 30 to 60 seconds, two or three times, rather than a forced, ratchety, painful effort.

If you don't have a partner, you can still use this position by pulling on your leg with a towel draped over your foot, or my favorite, lying down in a doorway and letting the wall hold your leg up as you scoot closer. Both of these variations are "one leggers" so you'll have to adjust a bit between legs, but these work well if you just stick to it.

There's just not enough room here to list all the possible hamstring stretches, so please, get with Ron at the gym and build a routine that works for you.

This is not an area for do-it-yourself routines. Let the pros work their magic, and you'll get "loose" much more quickly, and most importantly, "pain free."