Having muscles that are elastic, means upon stretch they respond with a rapid recoil as opposed to a rip or tear that can occur with an inelastic muscle. It is theorized that having such elasticity helps to produce greater speed because you are utilizing energy that is stored in the muscle as it strikes the ground and contracts. In addition, having muscles that are elastic can help prevent injuries when your foot hits an unexpected bump or pot hole and your muscles are able to spring you back into balance before the rest of your body hits the ground.
Inelasticity of the muscle can occur from multiple causes such as previous muscle strain, previous joint sprains, spinal and pelvic misalignments, and altered nerve supply to the muscle. All of these sources result in a muscle that is tighter than it should be. Most people know that to improve elasticity of the muscle it should be stretched. However, most people only do static stretching that involves one plane. This isn't always affective as certain joints of the body like the hip and shoulder allow for multiple planes of motion, instead of just a forward and back or side to side motion.
Therefore, for many joints of the body stretching must attempt to address all planes of motion. For example, to stretch the right hip flexor, instead of just kneeling on the right knee and lunging forward to stretch the hip flexor, try and raise the right arm straight up in the air on the side of the leg you are kneeling on. As you lunge forward, exhale and turn slightly across your body (to the left) for a 2-3 second count and then as you inhale come out of the lunge. Repeat again turning farther this time to the left. Next, try turning slightly to the right as you lunge forward on the same leg with your right arm overhead. Repeat this several times. These movements address multiple planes across the hip flexor and the hip capsule.
Another factor to improving muscle elasticity with stretching is when the stretching will be performed. Prior to a workout the athlete should attempt to do dynamic stretches with short pulses as described above to prepare the body for the activity and help give the muscles that elastic quality that helps prevent injury and maximizes speed. Following the sport, when an athlete is cooling down is a better time to hold the stretch for longer periods of time (10-60 second counts) to attempt to actually increase range of motion and elasticity. This type of stretching post activity is much more effective at improving elasticity because the muscles are warm and filled with blood.
Finally, in the last part of this article one should consider eccentric strength training to improve muscle elasticity for speed as well as strength. This type of exercise can be achieved using two different training methods. The first would be to do a simple eccentric slow count weight lifting activity. For example, for the hamstrings after performing a hamstring curl on a weight machine or with the feet upon an exercise ball and the body in a bridge position, you would slowly extend the legs out lower the weight or simply rolling the ball away from you as your legs extend. The second type of exercise to help build elasticity is a plyometric. These exercises involve a rapid and forceful contraction of the muscle after it is fully loaded. The goal is to improve the speed of contraction and elasticity of the muscle and therefore the movement. One of my favorites for all athletes is the box jump. This can be performed in many different ways but starting on a 1-2 foot high box and simply jumping down with a soft cushioning deep knee bend and then immediately doing a quick and explosive jump up into the air as high as possible is a great exercise to improve the explosive power of the muscle used in running and jumping. Repeat 8-10 times once or twice a week for several weeks and then take a break.
So as one can see there are various ways to stretch and strengthen the muscles to help improve their elasticity and speed of contraction. The importance of this besides improving performance is helping to prevent injury. In the next article in this series I will discuss how joint injuries reduce muscle elasticity and prevent stretching programs from working.
Dr. Ginsberg has been practicing Gonstead chiropractic since 1990 and has had a private practice in Geneva Illinois since 1994 specializing in children and adults. In addition, he has 19 years experience with athletes ranging from the youth soccer player, marathon runners, weekend warrior adults to professional body builders. For more information or to contact Dr.
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