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Stretching FAQ Part 3

by Brad Appleton


                        STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY:

                    Everything you never wanted to know

                              (Part 3 of 4)


                             by Brad Appleton

                   Version: 1.27, Last Modified 95/05/19

          Copyright (C) 1993, 1994, 1995 by Bradford D. Appleton

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this
document provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are
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Subject: Table of Contents for PART 3

All section titles in this document begin with the prefix "Subject: ".  If
you wish, you may scan ahead to a particular section by searching for the
regular expression /^Subject: SECTION-NAME/.  For example, to go to the
unnumbered section named "Introduction", you could scan for
/^Subject: Intro/; to go to section 1.1, you could scan for
/^Subject: 1\.1/; and to go to appendix A, you could scan for
/^Subject: Appendix A/.

     4 - How to Stretch
          4.1 - Warming Up
               4.1.1 - General Warm-Up
           - Joint Rotations
           - Aerobic Activity
               4.1.2 - Warm-Up Stretching
           - Static Warm-Up Stretching
           - Dynamic Warm-Up Stretching
               4.1.3 - Sport-Specific Activity
          4.2 - Cooling Down
          4.3 - Massage
          4.4 - Elements of a Good Stretch
               4.4.1 - Isolation
               4.4.2 - Leverage
               4.4.3 - Risk
          4.5 - Some Risky Stretches
          4.6 - Duration, Counting, and Repetition
          4.7 - Breathing During Stretching
          4.8 - Exercise Order
          4.9 - When to Stretch
               4.9.1 - Early-Morning Stretching
          4.10 - Stretching With a Partner
          4.11 - Stretching to Increase Flexibility
          4.12 - Pain and Discomfort
               4.12.1 - Common Causes of Muscular Soreness
               4.12.2 - Stretching with Pain
               4.12.3 - Overstretching
          4.13 - Performing Splits
               4.13.1 - Common Problems When Performing Splits
               4.13.2 - The Front Split
               4.13.3 - The Side Split
               4.13.4 - Split-Stretching Machines


Subject: 4 - How to Stretch

When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility.
According to M. Alter, benefits of stretching include:

   * enhanced physical fitness

   * enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements

   * increased mental and physical relaxation

   * enhanced development of body awareness

   * reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons

   * reduced muscular soreness

   * reduced muscular tension

   * increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals
     which lubricate connective tissues (See "1.3 - Connective Tissue")

   * reduced severity of painful menstruation ("dysmenorrhea") in females

Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and
hence do not reap some or all of these benefits.  Some of the most common
mistakes made when stretching are:

   * improper warm-up

   * inadequate rest between workouts

   * overstretching

   * performing the wrong exercises

   * performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence

In this chapter, we will try to show you how to avoid these problems, and
others, and present some of the most effective methods for realizing all
the benefits of stretching.


Subject: 4.1 - Warming Up

Stretching is *not* warming up! It is, however, a very important part of
warming up. Warming up is quite literally the process of "warming up"
(i.e., raising your core body temperature). A proper warm-up should raise
your body temperature by one or two degrees Celsius (1.4 to 2.8 degrees
Fahrenheit) and is divided into three phases:

  1. general warm-up

  2. stretching

  3. sport-specific activity

It is very important that you perform the general warm-up *before* you
stretch. It is *not* a good idea to attempt to stretch before your muscles
are warm (something which the general warm-up accomplishes).

Warming up can do more than just loosen stiff muscles; when done properly,
it can actually improve performance. On the other hand, an improper
warm-up, or no warm-up at all, can greatly increase your risk of injury
from engaging in athletic activities.

It is important to note that active stretches and isometric stretches
should *not* be part of your warm-up because they are often
counterproductive.  The goals of the warm-up are (according to Kurz): "an
increased awareness, improved coordination, improved elasticity and
contractibility of muscles, and a greater efficiency of the respiratory and
cardiovascular systems." Active stretches and isometric stretches do not
help achieve these goals because they are likely to cause the stretched
muscles to be too tired to properly perform the athletic activity for which
you are preparing your body.


Subject: 4.1.1 - General Warm-Up

The general warm-up is divided into two parts:

  1. joint rotations

  2. aerobic activity

These two activities should be performed in the order specified above.


Subject: - Joint Rotations

The general warm-up should begin with joint-rotations, starting either from
your toes and working your way up, or from your fingers and working your
way down. This facilitates joint motion by lubricating the entire joint
with synovial fluid. Such lubrication permits your joints to function more
easily when called upon to participate in your athletic activity. You
should perform slow circular movements, both clockwise and
counter-clockwise, until the joint seems to move smoothly.  You should
rotate the following (in the order given, or in the reverse order):

  1. fingers and knuckles

  2. wrists

  3. elbows

  4. shoulders

  5. neck

  6. trunk/waist

  7. hips

  8. legs

  9. knees

 10. ankles

 11. toes


Subject: - Aerobic Activity

After you have performed the joint rotations, you should engage in at least
five minutes of aerobic activity such as jogging, jumping rope, or any
other activity that will cause a similar increase in your cardiovascular
output (i.e., get your blood pumping).  The purpose of this is to raise
your core body temperature and get your blood flowing.  Increased blood
flow in the muscles improves muscle performance and flexibility and reduces
the likelihood of injury.


Subject: 4.1.2 - Warm-Up Stretching

The stretching phase of your warmup should consist of two parts:

  1. static stretching

  2. dynamic stretching

It is important that static stretches be performed *before* any dynamic
stretches in your warm-up.  Dynamic stretching can often result in
overstretching, which damages the muscles (See "4.12.3 - Overstretching").
Performing static stretches first will help reduce this risk of injury.


Subject: - Static Warm-Up Stretching

Once the general warm-up has been completed, the muscles are warmer and
more elastic. Immediately following your general warm-up, you should engage
in some slow, relaxed, static stretching (See "3.5 - Static Stretching").
You should start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower
body, stretching your muscles in the following order (See "4.8 - Exercise

  1. back

  2. sides (external obliques)

  3. neck

  4. forearms and wrists

  5. triceps

  6. chest

  7. buttocks

  8. groin (adductors)

  9. thighs (quadriceps and abductors)

 10. calves

 11. shins

 12. hamstrings

 13. instep

Some good static stretches for these various muscles may be found in most
books about stretching.  (See "Appendix A - References on Stretching").
Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to stretch all these muscles
before a workout. If you are one such person, you should at least take the
time to stretch all the muscles that will be heavily used during your


Subject: - Dynamic Warm-Up Stretching

Once you have performed your static stretches, you should engage in some
light dynamic stretching: leg-raises, and arm-swings in all directions (See
"3.2 - Dynamic Stretching"). According to Kurz, you should do "as many sets
as it takes to reach your maximum range of motion in any given direction",
but do not work your muscles to the point of fatigue. Remember - this is
just a warm-up, the real workout comes later.

Some people are surprised to find that dynamic stretching has a place in
the warm-up. But think about it: you are "warming up" for a workout that is
(usually) going to involve a lot of dynamic activity. It makes sense that
you should perform some dynamic exercises to increase your dynamic


Subject: 4.1.3 - Sport-Specific Activity

The last part of your warm-up should be devoted to performing movements
that are a "watered-down" version of the movements that you will be
performing during your athletic activity.  `HFLTA' says that:

     The final phase of the warm-up involves rehearsing specific movements
     that the athlete will be using during the practice or the event, but at
     a reduced intensity. Sport-specific activities improve coordination,
     balance, strength, and response time, and may reduce the risk of


Subject: 4.2 - Cooling Down

Stretching is *not* a legitimate means of cooling down. It is only part of
the process.  After you have completed your workout, the best way to reduce
muscle fatigue and soreness (caused by the production of lactic acid from
your maximal or near-maximal muscle exertion) is to perform a light
"warm-down". This warm-down is similar to the second half of your warm-up
(but in the reverse order). The warm-down consists of two phases:

  1. sport-specific activity

  2. dynamic stretching

  3. static stretching

Ideally, you should start your warm-down with about 10-20 minutes of
sport-specific activity (perhaps only a little more intense than in your
warm-up). In reality however, you may not always have 10-20 minutes to
spare at the end of your workout. You should, however, attempt to perform
at least 5 minutes of sport-specific activity in this case.  The
sport-specific activity should immediately be followed by stretching:
First perform some light dynamic stretches until your heart rate slows down
to its normal rate, then perform some static stretches.  Sport-specific
activity, followed by stretching, can reduce cramping, tightening, and
soreness in fatigued muscles and will make you feel better.

According to `HFLTA', "light warm-down exercise immediately following
maximal exertion is a better way of clearing lactic acid from the blood
than complete rest."  Furthermore, if you are still sore the next day, a
light warm-up or warm-down is a good way to reduce lingering muscle
tightness and soreness even when not performed immediately after a workout.
(See "4.12 - Pain and Discomfort").


Subject: 4.3 - Massage

Many people are unaware of the beneficial role that massage can play in
both strength training and flexibility training. Massaging a muscle, or
group of muscles, immediately prior to performing stretching or strength
exercises for those muscles, has some of the following benefits:

increased blood flow
     The massaging of the muscles helps to warm-up those muscles,
     increasing their blood flow and improving their circulation.

relaxation of the massaged muscles
     The massaged muscles are more relaxed. This is particularly helpful
     when you are about to stretch those muscles. It can also help relieve
     painful muscle cramps.

removal of metabolic waste
     The massaging action, and the improved circulation and blood flow
     which results, helps to remove waste products, such as lactic acid,
     from the muscles. This is useful for relieving post-exercise soreness.

Because of these benefits, you may wish to make massage a regular part of
your stretching program: immediately before each stretch you perform,
massage the muscles you are about to stretch.


Subject: 4.4 - Elements of a Good Stretch

According to `SynerStretch', there are three factors to consider when
determining the effectiveness of a particular stretching exercise:

  1. isolation

  2. leverage

  3. risk


Subject: 4.4.1 - Isolation

Ideally, a particular stretch should work only the muscles you are trying
to stretch. Isolating the muscles worked by a given stretch means that you
do not have to worry about having to overcome the resistance offered by
more than one group of muscles. In general, the fewer muscles you try to
stretch at once, the better.  For example, you are better off trying to
stretch one hamstring at a time than both hamstrings at once.  By isolating
the muscle you are stretching, you experience resistance from fewer muscle
groups, which gives you greater control over the stretch and allows you to
more easily change its intensity.  As it turns out, the splits is not one
of the best stretching exercises. Not only does it stretch several
different muscle groups all at once, it also stretches them in both legs at


Subject: 4.4.2 - Leverage

Having leverage during a stretch means having sufficient control over how
intense the stretch becomes, and how fast.  If you have good leverage, not
only are you better able to achieve the desired intensity of the stretch,
but you do not need to apply as much force to your outstretched limb in
order to effectively increase the intensity of the stretch. This gives you
greater control.

According to `SynerStretch':

     The most effective stretches provide the greatest mechanical advantage
     over the muscle to be stretched. Like isolation, good leverage makes it
     easier to overcome the substantial resistance offered by inflexible

     Many borderline stretching exercises can be made effective by adjusting
     them to provide improved leverage ... [which] provides for an easier,
     more effective stretch.


Subject: 4.4.3 - Risk

Although a stretch may be very effective in terms of providing the athlete
with ample leverage and isolation, the potential risk of injury from
performing the stretch must be taken into consideration.  Once again,
`SynerStretch' says it best:

     Even an exercise offering great leverage and isolation may be a
     candidate for the discard pile - because many otherwise good stretches
     subject joints to potentially injurious stresses. Some of these
     exercises may involve rotations that can strain ligaments or tendons.
     Others put pressure on vertebral disks and can lead to lower back
     problems (like the classic backbend exercise). Still others call for
     twists or turns that can cause problems in areas unrelated to the


Subject: 4.5 - Some Risky Stretches

The following stretches (many of which are commonly performed) are
considered risky (M. Alter uses the term `X'-rated) due to the fact that
they have a very high risk of injury for the athlete that performs them.
This does not mean that these stretches should never be performed. However,
great care should be used when attempting any of these stretches. Unless
you are an advanced athlete or are being coached by a qualified instructor
(such as a certified Yoga instructor, physical therapist, or professional
trainer), you can probably do without them (or find alternative stretching
exercises to perform).  When performed correctly with the aid of an
instructor however, some of these stretches can be quite beneficial.  Each
of these stretches is illustrated in detail in the section `X-Rated
Exercises' of M. Alter:

"the yoga plough"
     In this exercise, you lie down on your back and then try to sweep your
     legs up and over, trying to touch your knees to your ears. This
     position places excessive stress on the lower back, and on the discs
     of the spine. Not to mention the fact that it compresses the lungs and
     heart, and makes it very difficult to breathe. This particular
     exercise also stretches a region that is frequently flexed as a result
     of improper posture. This stretch is a prime example of an exercise
     that is very easy to do incorrectly. However, with proper instruction
     and attention to body position and alignment, this stretch can be
     performed succesfully with a minimal amount of risk and can actually
     improve spinal health and mobility.

"the traditional backbend"
     In this exercise, your back is maximally arched with the soles of your
     feet and the palms of your hands both flat on the floor, and your neck
     tilted back. This position squeezes (compresses) the spinal discs and
     pinches nerve fibers in your back.

"the traditional hurdler's stretch"
     This exercise has you sit on the ground with one leg straight in front
     of you, and with the other leg fully flexed (bent) behind you, as you
     lean back and stretch the quadricep of the flexed leg. The two legged
     version of this stretch is even worse for you, and involves fully
     bending both legs behind you on either side. The reason this stretch is
     harmful is that it stretches the medial ligaments of the knee
     (remember, stretching ligaments and tendons is *bad*) and crushes the
     meniscus. It can also result in slipping of the knee cap from being
     twisted and compressed.

"straight-legged toe touches"
     In this stretch, your legs are straight (either together or spread
     apart) and your back is bent over while you attempt to touch your toes
     or the floor. If you do not have the ability to support much of your
     weight with your hands when performing this exercise, your knees are
     likely to hyperextend. This position can also place a great deal of
     pressure on the vertebrae of the lower lumbar. Furthermore, if you
     choose to have your legs spread apart, it places more stress on the
     knees, which can sometimes result in permanent deformity.

"torso twists"
     Performing sudden, intense twists of the torso, especially with
     weights, while in an upright (erect) position can tear tissue (by
     exceeding the momentum absorbing capacity of the stretched tissues)
     and can strain the ligaments of the knee.

"inverted stretches"
     This is any stretch where you "hang upside down". Staying inverted for
     too long increases your blood pressure and may even rupture blood
     vessels (particularly in the eyes). Inverted positions are especially
     discouraged for anyone with spinal problems.


Subject: 4.6 - Duration, Counting, and Repetition

One thing many people seem to disagree about is how long to hold a passive
stretch in its position. Various sources seem to suggest that they should
be held for as little as 10 seconds to as long as a full minute (or even
several minutes). The truth is that no one really seems to know for sure.
According to `HFLTA':

     Some controversy surrounds how long a stretch should be held. Some
     researchers say 30-60 seconds; more recent research on the hamstrings
     indicates that 15 seconds may be sufficient. Whether the 15 seconds
     that may be sufficient for the hamstrings is also sufficient for other
     muscle groups is unclear.

A good common ground seems to be about 20 seconds. Children, and people
whose bones are still growing, do not need to hold a passive stretch this
long (and, in fact, Kurz strongly discourages it).  Holding the stretch for
about 7-10 seconds should be sufficient for this younger group of people.

A number of people like to count (either out loud or to themselves) while
they stretch. While counting during a stretch is not, by itself,
particularly important ... what is important is the setting of a definite
goal for each stretching exercise performed. Counting during a stretch
helps many people achieve this goal.

Many sources also suggest that passive stretches should be performed in
sets of 2-5 repetitions with a 15-30 second rest in between each stretch.


Subject: 4.7 - Breathing During Stretching

Proper breathing control is important for a successful stretch. Proper
breathing helps to relax the body, increases blood flow throughout the
body, and helps to mechanically remove lactic acid and other by-products of

You should be taking slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, trying to
exhale as the muscle is stretching. Some even recommend increasing the
intensity of the stretch only while exhaling, holding the stretch in its
current position at all other times (this doesn't apply to isometric

The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding
the abdomen (not the chest); hold the breath a moment; then exhale slowly
through the nose or mouth.  Inhaling through the nose has several purposes
including cleaning the air and insuring proper temperature and humidity for
oxygen transfer into the lungs. The breath should be natural and the
diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft.  There should be no force of the
breath. Some experts seem to prefer exhaling through the nose (as opposed
to through the mouth) saying that exhaling through the mouth causes
depression on the heart and that problems will ensue over the long term.

The rate of breathing should be controlled through the use of the glottis
in the back of the throat.  This produces a very soft "hm-m-m-mn" sound
inside the throat as opposed to a sniffing sound in the nasal sinuses.  The
exhalation should be controlled in a similar manner, but if you are
exhaling through the mouth, it should be with more of an "ah-h-h-h-h"
sound, like a sigh of relief.

As you breathe in, the diaphragm presses downward on the internal organs
and their associated blood vessels, squeezing the blood out of them.  As
you exhale, the abdomen, its organs and muscles, and their blood vessels
flood with new blood.  This rhythmic contraction and expansion of the
abdominal blood vessels is partially responsible for the circulation of
blood in the body.  Also, the rhythmic pumping action helps to remove waste
products from the muscles in the torso.  This pumping action is referred to
as the "respiratory pump".  The respiratory pump is important during
stretching because increased blood flow to the stretched muscles improves
their elasticity, and increases the rate at which lactic acid is purged
from them.


Subject: 4.8 - Exercise Order

Many people are unaware of the fact that the order in which you perform
your stretching exercises is important.  Quite often, when we perform a
particular stretch, it actually stretches more than one group of muscles:
the muscles that the stretch is primarily intended for, and other
supporting muscles that are also stretched but which do not receive the
"brunt" of the stretch.  These supporting muscles usually function as
synergists for the muscles being stretched (See "1.4 - Cooperating Muscle
Groups").  This is the basis behind a principle that `SynerStretch' calls
the "interdependency of muscle groups".

Before performing a stretch intended for a particular muscle, but which
actually stretches several muscles, you should first stretch each of that
muscle's synergists.  The benefit of this is that you are able to better
stretch the primary muscles by not allowing the supporting muscles the
opportunity to be a limiting factor in how "good" a stretch you can attain
for a particular exercise.

Ideally, it is best to perform a stretch that isolates a particular muscle
group, but this is not always possible.  According to `SynerStretch': "by
organizing the exercises within a stretching routine according to the
principle of interdependency of muscle groups, you minimize the effort
required to perform the routine, and maximize the effectiveness of the
individual exercises."  This is what `Health For Life' (in all of their
publications) calls "synergism": "combining elements to create a whole that
is greater than the mere sum of its parts."

For example, a stretch intended primarily for the hamstrings may also make
some demands upon the calves and buttocks (and even the lower back) but
mostly, it stretches the hamstrings. In this case, it would be beneficial
to stretch the lower back, buttocks, and calves first (in that order, using
stretches intended primarily for those muscles) before they need to be used
in a stretch that is intended primarily for the hamstrings.

As a general rule, you should usually do the following when putting
together a stretching routine:

   * stretch your back (upper and lower) first

   * stretch your sides after stretching your back

   * stretch your buttocks before stretching your groin or your hamstrings

   * stretch your calves before stretching your hamstrings

   * stretch your shins before stretching your quadriceps (if you do shin

   * stretch your arms before stretching your chest


Subject: 4.9 - When to Stretch

The best time to stretch is when your muscles are warmed up. If they are
not already warm before you wish to stretch, then you need to warm them up
yourself, usually by performing some type of brief aerobic activity (See
"4.1.1 - General Warm-Up"). Obviously, stretching is an important part of
warming-up before (See "4.1 - Warming Up"), and cooling-down after a
workout (See "4.2 - Cooling Down"). If the weather is very cold, or if you
are feeling very stiff, then you need to take extra care to warm-up before
you stretch in order to reduce the risk of injuring yourself.

Many of us have our own internal body-clock, or "circadian rhythm" as, it
is more formally called: Some of us are "early morning people" while others
consider themselves to be "late-nighters".  Being aware of your circadian
rhythm should help you decide when it is best for you to stretch (or
perform any other type of activity).  Gummerson says that most people are
more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning, peaking from about
2:30pm-4pm.  Also, according to `HFLTA':

     There is some evidence to suggest that flexibility and strength are
     greatest in the late afternoon or early evening. If this is true, then,
     all else being equal, an athlete might get a better workout by hitting
     the gym right after work rather than before work.


Subject: 4.9.1 - Early-Morning Stretching

On the other hand, according to Kurz, "if you need [or want] to perform
movements requiring considerable flexibility with [little or] no warm-up,
you ought to make early morning stretching a part of your routine." In
order to do this properly, you need to first perform a general warm-up (See
"4.1.1 - General Warm-Up"). You should then begin your early morning
stretching by first performing some static stretches, followed by some
light dynamic stretches.  Basically, your early morning stretching regimen
should be almost identical to a complete warm-up (See "4.1 - Warming Up").
The only difference is that you may wish to omit any sport-specific
activity (See "4.1.3 - Sport-Specific Activity"), although it certainly
won't hurt to perform it *if* you have time.


Subject: 4.10 - Stretching With a Partner

When done properly, stretches performed with the assistance of a partner
can be more effective than stretches performed without a partner. This is
especially  true of isometric stretches (See "3.6 - Isometric Stretching")
and PNF stretches (See "3.7 - PNF Stretching").  The problem with using a
partner, however, is that the partner does not feel what you feel, and thus
cannot respond as quickly to any discomfort that might prompt you to
immediately reduce the intensity (or some other aspect) of the stretch.
This can greatly increase your risk of injury while performing a particular

If you do choose to stretch with a partner, make sure that it is someone
you trust to pay close attention to you while you stretch, and to act
appropriately when you signal that you are feeling pain or discomfort.


Subject: 4.11 - Stretching to Increase Flexibility

When stretching for the purpose of increasing overall flexibility, a
stretching routine should accomplish, at the very least, two goals:

  1. To train your stretch receptors to become accustomed to greater muscle
     length (See "1.6.1 - Proprioceptors").

  2. To reduce the resistance of connective tissues to muscle elongation
     (See "2.2.1 - How Connective Tissue Affects Flexibility").

If you are attempting to increase active flexibility (See "2.1 - Types of
Flexibility"), you will also want to strengthen the muscles responsible for
holding the stretched limbs in their extended positions.

Before composing a particular stretching routine, you must first decide
which types of flexibility you wish to increase (See "2.1 - Types of
Flexibility"), and which stretching methods are best for achieving them
(See "3 - Types of Stretching").  The best way to increase dynamic
flexibility is by performing dynamic stretches, supplemented with static
stretches.  The best way to increase active flexibility is by performing
active stretches, supplemented with static stretches.  The fastest and most
effective way currently known to increase passive flexibility is by
performing PNF stretches (See "3.7 - PNF Stretching").

If you are very serious about increasing overall flexibility, then I
recommend religiously adhering to the following guidelines:

   * Perform early-morning stretching everyday (See "4.9.1 - Early-Morning

   * Warm-up properly before any and all athletic activities. Make sure to
     give yourself ample time to perform the complete warm-up. (See "4.1 -
     Warming Up").

   * Cool-down properly after any and all athletic activities. (See "4.2 -
     Cooling Down").

   * Always make sure your muscles are warmed-up before you stretch!

   * Perform PNF stretching every other day, and static stretching on the
     off days (if you are overzealous, you can try static stretching every
     day, in addition to PNF stretching every other day).

Overall, you should expect to increase flexibility *gradually*.  However,
If you really commit to doing the above, you should (according to
`SynerStretch') achieve maximal upper-body flexibility within one month and
maximal lower-body flexibility within two months. If you are older or more
inflexible than most people, it will take longer than this.

Don't try to increase flexibility too quickly by forcing yourself.  Stretch
no further than the muscles will go *without pain*.  (See "4.12.3 -


Subject: 4.12 - Pain and Discomfort

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort before, during, or after
stretching or athletic activity, then you need to try to identify the
cause. Severe pain (particularly in the joints, ligaments, or tendons)
usually indicates a serious injury of some sort, and you may need to
discontinue stretching and/or exercising until you have sufficiently


Subject: 4.12.1 - Common Causes of Muscular Soreness

If you are experiencing soreness, stiffness, or some other form of muscular
pain, then it may be due to one or more of the following:

torn tissue
     Overstretching and engaging in athletic activities without a proper
     warm-up can cause microscopic tearing of muscle fibers or connective
     tissues. If the tear is not too severe, the pain will usually not
     appear until one or two days after the activity that caused the
     damage. If the pain occurs during or immediately after the activity,
     then it may indicate a more serious tear (which may require medical
     attention). If the pain is not too severe, then light, careful static
     stretching of the injured area is supposedly okay to perform (See "3.5
     - Static Stretching").  It is hypothesized that torn fibers heal at a
     shortened length, thus decreasing flexibility in the injured muscles.
     Very light stretching of the injured muscles helps reduce loss of
     flexibility resulting from the injury. Intense stretching of any kind,
     however, may only make matters worse.

metabolic accumulation
     Overexertion and/or intense muscular activity will fatigue the muscles
     and cause them to accumulate lactic acid and other waste products. If
     this is the cause of your pain, then static stretching (See "3.5 -
     Static Stretching"), isometric stretching (See "3.6 - Isometric
     Stretching"), or a good warm-up (See "4.1 - Warming Up") or cool-down
     (See "4.2 - Cooling Down") will help alleviate some of the soreness.
     (See "2.3.1 - Why Bodybuilders Should Stretch"). Massaging the sore
     muscles may also help relieve the pain (See "4.3 - Massage"). It has
     also been claimed that supplements of vitamin C will help alleviate
     this type of pain, but controlled tests using placebos have been
     unable to lend credibility to this hypothesis. The ingestion of sodium
     bicarbonate (baking soda) before athletic activity has been shown to
     help increase the body's buffering capacity and reduce the output of
     lactic acid. However, it can also cause urgent diarrhea.

muscle spasms
     Exercising above a certain threshold can cause a decreased flow of
     blood to the active muscles. This can cause pain resulting in a
     protective reflex which contracts the muscle isotonically (See "1.5 -
     Types of Muscle Contractions"). The reflex contraction causes further
     decreases in blood flow, which causes more reflex contractions, and so
     on, causing the muscle to spasm by repeatedly contracting.  One common
     example of this is a painful muscle cramp. Immediate static stretching
     of the cramped muscle can be helpful in relieving this type of pain.
     However, it can sometimes make things worse by activating the stretch
     reflex (See "1.6.2 - The Stretch Reflex"), which may cause further
     muscle contractions. Massaging the cramped muscle (and trying to relax
     it) may prove more useful than stretching in relieving this type of
     pain (See "4.3 - Massage").


Subject: 4.12.2 - Stretching with Pain

If you are already experiencing some type of pain or discomfort before you
begin stretching, then it is very important that you determine the cause of
your pain (See "4.12.1 - Common Causes of Muscular Soreness").  Once you
have determined the cause of the pain, you are in a better position to
decide whether or not you should attempt to stretch the affected area.

Also, according to M. Alter:

     An important thing to remember is that some degree of soreness is often
     experienced by those who have not previously exercised or stretched -
     this is the penalty for having been inactive. On the other hand,
     well-trained athletes who work out at higher-than-usual levels of
     difficulty can also become sore. (However, you should immediately stop
     exercising if you feel or hear something popping or tearing.) As a
     general rule, remember the acronym "RICE" when treating an injured
     body part:

        * Rest

        * Ice

        * Compression

        * Elevation

     This will help to minimize the pain and swelling. Then seek appropriate
     professional advice.


Subject: 4.12.3 - Overstretching

If you stretch properly, you should *not* be sore the day after you have
stretched. If you are, then it may be an indication that you are
overstretching and that you need to go easier on your muscles by reducing
the intensity of some (or all) of the stretches you perform.
Overstretching will simply increase the time it takes for you to gain
greater flexibility. This is because it takes time for the damaged muscles
to repair themselves, and to offer you the same flexibility as before they
were injured.

One of the easiest ways to "overstretch" is to stretch "cold" (without any
warm-up). A "maximal cold stretch" is not necessarily a desirable thing.
Just because a muscle can be moved to its limit without warming up doesn't
mean it is ready for the strain that a workout will place on it.

Obviously, during a stretch (even when you stretch properly) you are going
to feel some amount of discomfort.  The difficulty is being able to discern
when it is too much.  In her book, `Stretch and Strengthen', Judy Alter
describes what she calls "ouch! pain": If you feel like saying "ouch!" (or
perhaps something even more explicit) then you should ease up immediately
and discontinue the stretch. You should definitely feel the tension in your
muscle, and perhaps even light, gradual "pins and needles", but if it
becomes sudden, sharp, or uncomfortable, then you are overdoing it and are
probably tearing some muscle tissue (or worse).  In some cases, you may
follow all of these guidelines when you stretch, feeling that you are not
in any "real" pain, but still be sore the next day.  If this is the case,
then you will need to become accustomed to stretching with less discomfort
(you might be one of those "stretching masochists" that take great pleasure
in the pain that comes from stretching).

Quite frequently, the progression of sensations you feel as you reach the
extreme ranges of a stretch are: localized warmth of the stretched muscles,
followed by a burning (or spasm-like) sensation, followed by sharp pain (or
"ouch!" pain). The localized warming will usually occur at the origin, or
point of insertion, of the stretched muscles. When you begin to feel this,
it is your first clue that you may need to "back off" and reduce the
intensity of the stretch. If you ignore (or do not feel) the warming
sensation, and you proceed to the point where you feel a definite burning
sensation in the stretched muscles, then you should ease up immediately and
discontinue the stretch! You may not be sore yet, but you probably will be
the following day. If your stretch gets to the point where you feel sharp
pain, it is quite likely that the stretch has already resulted in tissue
damage which may cause immediate pain and soreness that persists for
several days.


Subject: 4.13 - Performing Splits

A lot of people seem to desire the ability to perform splits.  If you are
one such person, you should first ask yourself why you want to be able to
perform the splits.  If the answer is "So I can kick high!" or something
along those lines, then being able to "do" the splits may not be as much
help as you think it might be in achieving your goal. Doing a full split
looks impressive, and a lot of people seem to use it as a benchmark of
flexibility, but it will not, in and of itself, enable you to kick high.
Kicking high requires dynamic flexibility (and, to some extent, active
flexibility) whereas the splits requires passive flexibility. You need to
discern what type of flexibility will help to achieve your goal (See "2.1 -
Types of Flexibility"), and then perform the types of stretching exercises
that will help you achieve that specific type of flexibility.  (See "3 -
Types of Stretching").

If your goal really is "to be able to perform splits" (or to achieve
maximal lower-body static-passive flexibility), and assuming that you
already have the required range of motion in the hip joints to even do the
splits (most people in reasonably good health without any hip problems do),
you will need to be patient.  Everyone is built differently and so the
amount of time it will take to achieve splits will be different for
different people (although `SynerStretch' suggests that it should take
about two months of regular PNF stretching for most people to achieve their
maximum split potential).  The amount of time it takes will depend on your
previous flexibility and body makeup.  Anyone will see improvements in
flexibility within weeks with consistent, frequent, and proper stretching.
Trust your own body, take it gently, and stretch often.  Try not to dwell
on the splits, concentrate more on the stretch.  Also, physiological
differences in body mechanics may not allow you to be very flexible.  If
so, take that into consideration when working out.

A stretching routine tailored to the purpose of achieving the ability to
perform splits may be found at the end of this document.  (See "Appendix B
- Working Toward the Splits").


Subject: 4.13.1 - Common Problems When Performing Splits

First of all, there are two kinds of splits: front and side (the side split
is often called a "chinese split"). In a Front split, you have one leg
stretched out to the front and the other leg stretched out to the back. In
a side split, both legs are stretched out to your side.

A common problem encountered during a side split is pain in the hip joints.
Usually, the reason for this is that the split is being performed
improperly (you may need to tilt your pelvis forward).

Another common problem encountered during splits (both front and side) is
pain in the knees. This pain can often (but not always) be alleviated by
performing a slightly different variation of the split. (See "4.13.2 - The
Front Split"). (See "4.13.3 - The Side Split").


Subject: 4.13.2 - The Front Split

For front splits, the front leg should be straight and its kneecap should
be facing the ceiling, or sky. The front foot can be pointed or flexed
(there will be a greater stretch in the front hamstring if the front foot
is flexed). The kneecap of the back leg should either be facing the floor
(which puts more of a stretch on the quadriceps and psoas muscles), or out
to the side (which puts more of a stretch on the inner-thigh (groin)
muscles). If it is facing the floor, then it will probably be pretty hard
to flex the back foot, since its instep should be on the floor. If the back
kneecap is facing the side, then your back foot should be stretched out
(not flexed) with its toes pointed to reduce undue stress upon the knee.
Even with the toes of the back foot pointed, you may still feel that there
is to much stress on your back knee (in which case you should make it face
the floor).


Subject: 4.13.3 - The Side Split

For side splits, you can either have both kneecaps (and insteps) facing the
ceiling, which puts more of a stretch on the hamstrings, or you can have
both kneecaps (and insteps) face the front, which puts more of a stretch on
the inner-thigh (groin) muscle. The latter position puts more stress on the
knee joints and may cause pain in the knees for some people. If you perform
side splits with both kneecaps (and insteps) facing the front then you
*must* be sure to tilt your pelvis forward (push your buttocks to the rear)
or you may experience pain in your hip joints.


Subject: 4.13.4 - Split-Stretching Machines

Many of you may have seen an advertisement for a "split-stretching" machine
in your favorite exercise/athletic magazine. These machines look like
"benches with wings". They have a padded section upon which to sit, and two
padded sections in which to place your legs (the machine should ensure that
no pressure is applied upon the knees).  The machine functions by allowing
you to gradually increase the "stretch" in your adductors (inner-thigh
muscles) through manual adjustments which increase the degree of the angle
between the legs. Such machines usually carry a hefty price tag, often in
excess of $100 (American currency).

A common question people ask about these machines is "are they worth the
price?". The answer to that question is entirely subjective. Although the
machine can certainly be of valuable assistance in helping you achieve the
goal of performing a side-split, it is not necessarily any better (or
safer) than using a partner while you stretch. The main advantage that
these machines have over using a partner is that they give you (not your
partner) control of the intensity of the stretch.  The amount of control
provided depends on the individual machine.

One problem with these "split-stretchers" is that there is a common
tendency to use them to "force" a split (which can often result in injury)
and/or to hold the "split" position for far longer periods of time than is

The most effective use of a split-stretching machine is to use it as your
"partner" to provide resistance for PNF stretches for the groin and inner
thigh areas (See "3.7 - PNF Stretching").  When used properly,
"split-stretchers" can provide one of the best ways to stretch your groin
and inner-thighs without the use of a partner.

However, they do cost quite a bit of money and they don't necessarily give
you a better stretch than a partner could.  If you don't want to "cough-up"
the money for one of these machines, I recommend that you either use a
partner and/or perform the lying `V' stretch described later on in this
document (See "Appendix B - Working Toward the Splits").


 Brad_Appleton@ivhs.mot.com           Motorola PNSB, Northbrook, IL USA
 "And miles to go before I sleep."    DISCLAIMER: I said it, not my employer!