Of all topics in fitness, few are more controversial than stretching. Stretching is nothing new. 500-700 years B.C. dates the origins of gymnastics. The origin of martial arts is 5000 years B.C. and some forms of yoga. Stretching is an important component of all of these disciplines. So how can stretching be questionable since it has been around for so long?
Some might say stretching increases flexibility; other will claim it prevents injuries. More recently, there seems to be a more generalized understanding that passive stretching is not conducive to gains in performance when performed before a physical activity…
In doubt, I prefer turning to neurophysiology… but that’s me…
So let me lay it out for you:
Upper motor neurons, which originate in the motor region of the cortex or the brainstem, carry motor information to muscles. Based on its interpretation of what is needed for you to stand upright and resist the pull of gravity, your baseline muscle tension is established. This happened involuntarily. That’s right, you were not consulted and you actually have no control over it. The only way to affect this relationship is to increase the quality and the quantity of information processed by these neurons so that they, in turn, contract muscles more effectively to allow you to do… well… anything!
Information from sensory receptors:
Skin of feet, eyes, bite, and skin
Upper motor neurons
It is based on how your feet contact the ground, how your eyes track, how your mouth opens and closes and if you have any surgical scars that can create muscle inhibitions that your body decides the state of your muscle tension.
Stretching is, in no way, shape or form, going to modulate this response.
To add to this, your body is fully equipped with a local reflex called reciprocal inhibition. This reflex is responsible for the normal response that can be witnessed during a medical assessment where, with a small hammer, the tendon of your quadriceps muscle is stretched. The muscle contracts right away! It contracts right away to being stretched… How interesting!
So why do we stretch… I don’t. So I am asking you… why do you stretch?