In continuation with my last post, I will address some more aspects of stretching. This time I will talk about muscle isolation. I will apply this to both injury prevention and flexibility.
First, muscle isolation is a misnomer. I use this term to describe ways to stretch individual and groups of tendons, ligaments and muscles. Which one of these are you actually stretching at any one time? No one really knows. Still, I use this term for simplicity.
I will start with an example. Our camara Virtual talked to me about a sore muscle that had been bothering him for a while but he could not stretch it. Every time he tried to stretch, other muscle groups got in the way. These muscle groups would pull tight before he could pull the sore muscle tight. He asked me if I knew how he could stretch the muscle. I did not know. However, I did know how to stretch muscles close to it. I had him use a normal stretching technique that stretched muscles near his injury. By slightly adjusting the position of his body and relative positions of his torso and legs, he was able to pull the sore muscle tight and stretch it. In other words, he was able to isolate the sore muscle. This is what I mean by muscle isolation.
To be more specific, his injured muscle was on the outside of his hip, just above and in front of the ball and socket joint of his hip.
When he tried to stretch is gluteus muscles (butt muscles) the stretch did not reach his injured muscle. This stretch is done by placing the outside of one ankle of one leg on the top of the other leg’s knee and pulling that knee towards your chest. This was ineffective at stretching Virtual’s sore muscle. By pushing the other knee away from his chest and turning his torso towards the stretched muscle group, he was able to stretch the sore muscle instead of the gluteus groups. (Don’t try this if you are reading this at your office now, especially if you are wearing a skirt.)
I went through this same process with a shoulder injury last year. It was just a matter of finding how to stretch those muscles and then stretching them routinely. One behavior that helped was doing this stretch after exercising the injured muscle group. The increased blood flow caused the muscles to be more tight and supplied oxygen and nutrients to the injured area.
This relates to stretching for flexibility quite well. Most people want to kick higher or be more flexible with their legs. The mistake most people make is that they try to gain lateral flexibility by just spreading their legs as wide as they can and pushing hard. This technique is mildly effective. This is because lateral leg flexibility requires that you stretch a lot of muscle groups all at once. Though it may hurt, you are pulling on too many groups to be really effective.
The best way to increase lateral leg flexibility is to isolate the tightest muscles and just stretch them. You basically stretch each muscle one by one by only stretching the most tight one. This is sort of like divide and conquer.
Rather than just spreading your legs to the sides and trying to drop to the floor, you should just spread your legs moderately wide. Before you feel any tension, just change the angle and direction of your pelvic bone. You can bend one knee slightly to get a better angle and pull one groin muscle tight. Once you have stretched this muscle, you can switch to another one. Just remember to stretch evenly.
Another tip I have is what I call isometric stretching. Interestingly enough, the Merriam Webster American English Dictionary provides one
of the following definitions: of, relating to, involving, or being muscular contraction (as in isometrics) against resistance, without significant shortening of muscle fibers, and with marked increase in muscle tone.
Rather than increasing muscle tone, isometric stretching involves muscular contraction to increase flexibility. Basically, once you isolate a muscle, flex (contract) that muscle for a better stretch.
It hurts a little more but it is a really good stretch. I suggest that once you isolate a muscle and stretch it, that you contract that muscle for ten or more seconds. When you release it, it will be more flexible and you will need to pull it more taught by shifting your body’s position. I recommend repeating this process three or four times to achieve a maximum stretch before moving on to another muscle group.
I hope this was clear enough. Please post comments and I will try to respond to your questions.