Stretching Shortcuts 2/3 - Fascia and Muscle Chains
The main reason why people are put off from stretching is the time it takes. Typically, we have learnt to hold a stretch on one muscle, say the calves, for 30 seconds before moving on to the next group, for example the hamstrings. We were also told that a muscle attaches from one bone to another and that’s it.
Muscles, in fact, are connected to each other and are referred to as muscle chains. These weave and wrap around the body in a variety of directions, creating slings within which the body moves. Fascia is a relatively inelastic tissue which wraps around every cell, muscle and joint binding them together. Both muscles and fascia can become tense, tight and contracted. However, because everything is connected, tension in one area of the sling can cause problems further along the chain.
A typical example of this is shin splints. We can see from the image (Tom Myers - Anatomy Trains), the muscle overlaying the shins comes from the outside of the thigh, crosses the abdomen and passes underneath the opposite shoulder.From here it goes up to the opposite side of the neck and down the back to the inner part of the leg before tracking to the outside of the knee, looping under the foot and coming back onto the shins.
Simply stretching your quads to help with shin splints doesn’t work, we have to think about stretching the whole chain. This is why yoga poses are so time- effective at increasing flexibility - the use the whole body. In this example, the pyramid pose is a with a twist of your upper body towards the ceiling (to incorporate the muscle chain crossing the abdomen), is a really effective stretch for shin splints.
Stretching the entire chain is the best answer for “how to stretch a muscle”. Use your arms to twist towards the ceiling firstly one way, then the other - which feels most difficult? How does it feel if you point your toe in or out, align your feet on a tight-rope or stretch with feet further apart? These little tweaks can be applied to all full body stretches and make the difference between an effective 30 second stretch and just another hamstring stretch.