Stretching is lengthening tissues. Massage is clearing tissues. When you stretch, the goal is to improve flexibility. When you get a massage, the goal is to improve range of motion. What if I told you our traditional ways of thinking about stretching and massage were incorrect?
Instead of the old model of, “let’s stretch to get more flexible!” or “I’m going to get a massage so I am not as sore,” we will use range of motion as our predictor of success. What is range of motion? With your shoulders and butt against the wall, can you keep your elbows straight and raise your hands in front of you, overhead? How far can you go? That is range of motion. Maybe you have complete range and can get your hands to the wall overhead. Maybe you get stuck halfway. Maybe you can do it, but you have to bend your elbows, or your hips come off the wall. For sound overhead mobility, our goal to improve range of motion in the shoulders will be to practice this movement.
Stretching is loaded resistance training. Think about this in terms of bending over and touching your toes. This probably stretches out your hamstrings. If you added weights to both hands, now we have some resistance training going on. When we begin to reframe stretching in our head as resistance training, we can approach what we do in the gym more mindful.
Improved fitness comes from increasing our capacity to move large loads over large distances quickly. Having the range of motion to move loads is crucial. We improve our range by exercise. The lizard lunge, or active spiderman we use during warmups at the gym is a great example. If you continually moved through that position, you would feel tired. That is an exercise! The stretch we normally think of to increase your hip range of motion is now an unloaded resistance tool.
Squats. At the bottom of the squat, we are expressing a flex in the knees, then an extension in the quads as you stand. Holding the bottom of the squat with load will create an even greater flex and extension. If the goal is to increase range of motion, getting into the end range position is important. Stretch can be analogous to resistance training. It is the sensation you feel at the end range. The tissues are working hard to hold your structure together.
Lastly, think stretching to improve muscle tissues. Think massage to clear muscle tissues. In the same way there is traffic on the highway, massage clears out the traffic in your muscles. When you do an exercise, you stretch the tissue along the highway, making it longer and leaner. Do you still have questions? Reach out to [email protected] to learn more or book a personal training session and feel the difference between a stretch and a massage.