More on stretching

Mestre Marcelo Caverinha
Mestre Marcelo Caverinha

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.


9 Replies to “More on stretching”

  1. Thanks Lagartixa,
    That’s right it was not so easy to find how to stretch these muscles properly, thanks for the help 🙂

    Now the 1$ question: how to stretch to be better at ponche?

    1. I think i’m not so bad at ponche and I start to learn it after “Matrix” the movie, I like this moment, when Neo escapes from bullets. And I like kidding and play some “neo-style ponche” without hands…

  2. The trick to the Ponche is knowing what muscle groups to stretch. The best position to be in is obviously the Ponche but you should focus on what muscles you ARE stretching and what muscles you NOT stretching. Everyone is inclined to stretch the part that hurts the most. That’s because they think that the part that hurts the most is the tightest muscle. This is not true. When you stretch Ponche, the part that hurts the most is the weakest. Thus, you should not stretch it too hard. Instead, you should try to slightly adjust your Ponche so that it stretches other parts of your body that don’t hurt that much.
    For me, my lower back hurts the most when I stretch Ponche. But I made the most progress when I tried to stretch my shoulders and hips. They didn’t hurt at first but when I focused on them and tried to stretch them more, I felt the tension and thus increased my flexibility.

  3. Shhh . . . don’t let anyone know that my Portuguese is bad. It is a well kept secret, except for the Brazilian community in Shanghai. I think they know.

  4. After intense capoeira training, I get a form of heel pain, especially first steps in morning . I read some stretching tips for this heel condition. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fascitis which is commonly referred to as a heel spur.

    Heel Pain Exercises

    1. Achilles tendon and plantar fascia stretch
    First thing in the morning, loop a towel, a piece of elastic or a tubigrip around the ball of your foot and, keeping your knee straight, pull your toes towards your nose, holding for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times for each foot.

    2. Wall push-ups or stretches for Achilles tendon
    The Achilles tendon comes from the muscles at the back of your thigh and your calf muscles. These exercises need to be performed first with the knee straight and then with the knee bent in order to stretch both parts of the Achilles tendon. Twice a day do the following wall push-ups or stretches: (a) Face the wall, put both hands on the wall at shoulder height, and stagger the feet (one foot in front of the other). The front foot should be approximately 30 cm (12 inches) from the wall. With the front knee bent and the back knee straight, lean into the stretch (i.e. towards the wall) until a tightening is felt in the calf of the back leg, and then ease off. Repeat 10 times. (b) Now repeat this exercise but bring the back foot forward a little so that the back knee is slightly bent. Repeat the push-ups 10 times.

    3. Stair stretches for Achilles tendon and plantar fascia
    Holding the stair-rail for support, with legs slightly apart, position the feet so that both heels are off the end of the step. Lower the heels, keeping the knees straight, until a tightening is felt in the calf. Hold this position for 20-60 seconds and then raise the heels back to neutral. Repeat 6 times, at least twice a day.

    4. Dynamic stretches for plantar fascia
    This involves rolling the arch of the foot over a tennis ball or a heel pain massager etc, while either standing (holding the back of a chair for support) or sitting. Allow the foot and ankle to move in all directions over the object. This can be done for a few minutes until there is some discomfort. Repeat this exercise at least twice a day. The discomfort can be relieved by rolling the foot on a cool drinks can from the fridge.

    5. Pen Roll and Alphabet Excerscise
    Place a pen on the floor and try to pick the pen up curling all your toes around the pen. Once you have the pen hold for 5 seconds and repeat. Also spell out the alphabet with your large toe, repeat 3 times for each foot. Both exercises help to focus the stretch of the plantar fascia and promote healing.

  5. Thanks Tartaruga, I also have very tight Achilles tendons (I hardly can do cocorinha with my heels on the floor). You know, that’s the usual downside of being fabulous on high heels all week long. Something you wanna confess, Tartaruga ?

  6. good article/insight. if I may, from a chiropractic perspective. if one were to follow an anatomical model on which muscle exactly it is that is causing discomfort. a proper stretch is one that distances the origin and insertion of the muscle and concurrently flows in the opposite direction of the intended contraction/use of the muscle. i.e. Gluteus maximus: its function being extension of the leg, one would flex the leg in full extension to gain the most “stretch” out of it. of course there is also your glute medius and minimus who have rotational aspects to their functionality.

    hope that helps! 🙂

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