I am visiting my brother this weekend. He asked if I like mussels. Funny, I said, I am just reading a book on muscles. Yes, I have been that dumb about muscles and stretching. To correct that, I read The Stark Reality of Stretching by Dr. Steven Stark. Good stretching is important for everyday health and prevention of injury. It increases power and prevents injuries for athletes at every level.
The key to understanding muscles is myofilaments, the muscle fibres that contain overlapping proteins called myosin and actin. A stretch is the sliding elongation of these fibres caused by the proteins sliding past each other. A bit tough to visualize, that. Here’s a better description of what happens. One, in a stretch, start from a point of zero tension. Two, load a single muscle or muscle group. The muscle contracts. It shortens. Three, find the point of first awareness of tension, and hold. Less tension is best. Four, the muscle will naturally relax, losing the tension. Five, the relaxation causes the sliding elongation. It stores energy in the muscle that can be used for action.
The book provides very detailed stretch instructions, but only for the weight-bearing muscles of the lower extremity: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, groin, calves, and hip flexors. Stretching these muscles is vital for preventing chronic ache in the knees and lower back. The principles are the same, I suppose, but I wanted to see the same level of instruction for upper extremity muscle stretches as well: shoulders, back, biceps, triceps, arms, chest, forearms, and sides. I found some nice visual references for the whole body stretches by google-image-searching “stretches”. Stark’s book is still great for understanding how muscles work and inspiring a good stretching routine.