Thoughts on Stretching, also Tone! Cool down, and the RAMP warm up!

Stretching

Try it at home before sleep, it promotes relaxation.
Stretching is always under debate and is continually researched but the many pros of static stretching include: increase of flexibility; and post session, the stimulation of regenerative and restorative processes; useful adaptations of the muscle fibres.
Con: a joint can feel less stable afterwards. (There can also be a reduction in maximal force produced but hey if we’re not about to compete in an elite competition at that minute then it’s not worth worrying about!)  Stretching can be great to release restricted areas and allow more fluid movement around a joint, and allow greater activation. Eg. stretching hip flexors can then allow glutes to be fired more, as they are then less hindered. There is no reason it cant be utilised before a session, but crucially, this should then be followed with some quality activation within a dynamic RAMP warm up. A RAMP warm up should always be used at the start of activity for injury prevention as well as maximising performance; stretching itself or myofascial release (think massage) doesn’t fire the system up ready to launch.

A big ‘pro’ of our classes- working in balance around the body, it should reset the tonicity* closer to an equilibrium. When this is achieved it can give you a feeling of not necessarily needing to stretch, particularly those who are flexible and some may need need more stability (included in what we do).
Stretching is useful individualised -listen to your body- certain areas for you may be more useful to stretch than others, ie. Areas that have been worked more! eg. if you’re not used to working quads as much, stretch them. If you’re not used to working hamstrings and glutes as much, stretch them.
If you’re aiming to increase your flexibility you may even want to stretch for a 20 minutes or half an hour! It can really be done any time.
Some research now shows stretching can help strength developments. When a muscle group is used a lot, lets take the quads for example, it is likely useful to stretch them.

Muscle ‘tone’ is about tension. We all have a pre-set amount of tension transmitted through our musculature. There is an optimal amount of tension that works well for the individual. If we’re overly tight, or lax, we may notice it.
Imagine a series of ropes holding up a ships’ mast, we don’t want them too tight or too loose, we want that amount of tension to ‘balance out’ around the system.

If we have an unbalanced increased tension somewhere – lots of typical areas if we’re sat too much- then aiming to increase flexibility in that area can be good.
If we have any laxity or are very flexible, it may likely be good to work on stability more and we may not need to stretch certain areas.
We need both mobility (think joints) and stability (think muscular control around the joints), as well as flexibility (think muscle lengths).
Sometimes a ‘tight muscle’ is compensating for another area, or feels weak and needs to be worked!
Often a tricky aspect is that when we stretch, the weakest or loosest -or area of least tonicity- gives first , and the tightest or stiffest muscle fibres we want to get to stretch last!

Also ‘Toning up’ doesn’t exist!
There is Strength – roughly: how much force can be produced by those fibres, a neuro-muscular process.
and: How many fibres make up a certain volume of muscle,
and then: body fat%
This composition outcome is often really what people mean or are looking for, not ‘tone’. Ie. less fat is what makes muscle more visible

Cooling down

A few benefits: Blood flow; removal of waste products, resupply of nutrients to muscles and other cells. It’s good to keep the blood pressure from dropping too quickly. The simple act of walking around for a few minutes can facilitate this. Avoid just staying collapsed in a heap, no matter how hard the session or event was! (Ask rowers and coaches!)
Making another comparison back to my rowing coaching work – There is research showing that walking post-race has the same ‘cool-down’ benefits of moving on the ergo or bike at a recovery heart rate (and with far more waste products and lactate to remove!)

RAMP warm up

Raise heart rate
Activate muscles
Mobilise joints
Potentiate

Next session have a think about which aspects of our warm up cover each part! The RAM elements don’t have to be in order, but the P is last, as we potentiate the training with movements more specific to what the training/activity/sport/race will involve.
It should be dynamic and work muscles and joints through their full lengths and ranges.
Activitation-getting muscle fibres to fire is as much a neurological process and stability work can be used here too.

I’ll do another post in more detail with some examples, about the RAMP warm up!