Stretch It Out

Today, I’d like to get into one of my favorite topics, something I think all of us have been involved in at some point in our lives. Now, of course, fitness. I mean, a lot of us have done some physical education or PE. I was such a big fan of PE, that’s part of the reason why we named the business Personal Edge. And I think physical education should always be a large part of all of our lives. There’s a lot of aspects from old PE classes that are still good today. I’m not sure about the picking people last, or maybe the wedgies that went on in the locker room, but several other aspects of playing games, general exercise, fitness calisthenics. And one of my most favorite, and the one we’re talking about today, is stretching. We’ll give you some information about it today, some stuff that you may not know that may be new to you, pretty much the latest information on stretching. How to do it, why to do it, when to do it, when not to do it. Stretching, or flexibility, basically is a measurement of the space between two joints- the tissue between two joints- warming it up and how pliable that tissue is, let’s put it that way. So usually when we’re stretching, we’re talking about muscles; you’ve got tendons and stuff that can get stretched. It’s not something we practice or we try to do. That’s usually a bad thing. Flexibility deals mostly with the muscles themselves. And it’s something that a lot of people for a long time still use, believe it or not in the wrong way. I don’t think any of us started some sort of a PE program or athletics without stretching before. My podcast producer Pablo and I were talking earlier about stretching. He’s somebody that, believe it or not, is still pretty flexible today in his adult life. He told me earlier about how much the coaches in school were impressed with his flexibility and what have you. He also said as a baseball player, he wasn’t allowed on the field until he stretched, before playing.


I don’t know if anyone that has been involved in some sort of athletics when younger, didn’t have that rule. But, I have something to tell you we were doing that wrong. Of course, like everything in fitness and nutrition, we’re always learning changes to many of the things we do but even though it may have been wrong, I would not tell you to stop. Now I’ll explain what I’m talking about here. Years ago, I had the opportunity to go to the American College of Sports Medicine annual summit, their big get-together of all the members of ACSM. ACSM, American College of Sports Medicine, is the defining body and pretty much the gold standard of not only certifications in fitness and wellness, but they wrote the book literally on fitness testing, fitness evaluation. It has been around for a good 40 years or more. They wrote the book that is kind of our Bible. If you’ve got a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree or even Ph.D. in this field, you’ve used some of their textbooks when it comes to fitness testing, and prescriptions were written by the American College Sports Medicine. And that’s why I happen to have my certifications through this particular agency. I went to their National Summit, which I try to attend every year when possible. And I heard a man who happened to be talking about flexibility and stretching. And I’ll tell you why I have a major interest in that. My background, I’ve said earlier, is that I was a pole vaulter. Pole vaulting was, believe it or not, the third sport that I became interested in as a kid. My second was diving. I enjoyed Springboard diving thoroughly, but we only had a summer team. We didn’t have a year-round program. And before that, I’d gotten into tumbling at an early age and did gymnastics for around 30 years. I taught for 20 years and it was something I loved. The reason that I had to go to pole vaulting, and not diving or gymnastics, was because we didn’t have any teams. We didn’t get any kind of competition for those disciplines. And the reason I was a good pole vaulter was that I had such a great gymnastics background. I had a major passion for flexibility and stretching because of being involved in those disciplines. But of course, I wanted to go to the summit, to hear this particular individual speak about stretching and some new research that he’d found about stretching.


For those of you that are alumni with us, you know I am passionate about drinking water. I am now at about 74 ounces. So I hope you’re keeping up. This is your reminder to drink up, folks. 

Back to that talk, I went to, the new advancements in stretching are provided by a man by the name of Dr. Michael Bracko. Mike Bracko is now the former president of ACSM. But at the time, he was a noted exercise physiologist, one of the tops in the world for that matter. And Dr. Bracko, I thought this was kind of interesting about his background, as I always read the synopsis before I go into the summit, but he’s the chief exercise physiologist at the Canadian Institute for Hockey Research. Now, this is a huge thing. With me being where I’m from, in South Alabama, the Canadian Institute of Hockey never really came across my mind. I was more tuned into Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s facility in Dallas, Texas. But evidently, Canadian hockey is where quite a bit of fitness research comes out of. And Dr. Bracko is one of the reasons for that. But he gave a talk on flexibility and stretching, which I thought you know, of course, I’ve been involved in gymnastics for 20 years. And at that time, I’d been a trainer for a good 10 years or so. I had already completed my master’s degree. I figured, wow, I could probably get up there and teach this thing. Oh well, I might as well go and listen to it. Dr. Bracko came in and blew my mind. And the reason being is that he told me something very interesting, and goes back to what I was saying earlier about the fact that we were doing it wrong. There was research, we found out that stretching before exercise, or before a sport, believe it or not, has been shown to possibly increase injury. Now the whole reason we’re doing this is to prevent injury. And a lot of us looked at it as this was our “warm up”. We would stretch before we played, stretched before we did anything. And thought, this is the way to prevent injury. Well, there’s a simple reason if you think about it. And as he started to talk, it made a lot of sense. And as I tell you this, I’m sure that you’ll understand why I think it’s a very simple concept, it makes a lot of sense. If you have done any kind of exercise, whatsoever at some point in time in your life, either you were involved in a fitness routine, or maybe you were involved in sports at a younger age, or what have you. And you remember being sore, you remember, doing things to the point where a muscle burned if you’re lifting a weight, and you’re planning on doing 15 repetitions between 12 and 15, you start to feel that burn. Yes, your body tearing muscle fibers is what’s happening, and they’re releasing something that many of us know about. It’s called lactic acid. Now, a lot of people think that lactic acid is why you’re sore the next day that has absolutely nothing to do with it. Lactic acid is a byproduct being released from that muscle that you’re tearing that is made to burn you. It is doing that on purpose. That’s what the good Lord provided for your body to tell you hey, stop that. If you don’t stop that, you’re going to rip that muscle in half, and I’m going to burn you and I’m gonna burn you more and more and more until you cut that out. That’s the whole reason that lactic acid is there. But if you think about it, that feeling you get when you’re straining on a bicep curl or a bench press or even in a squat and then burn that you feel, what have you. Well, lactic acid, once it gets in the system, once you stop, it dissipates within 25 to 30 seconds. So that’s why a lot of people will do an exercise, then wait 25 to 30 seconds and repeat the exercise. When we’re doing a 30-minute session, one of my trainers will take somebody and do an exercise, then they’ll go do a completely different body part during that same time. So they don’t have to stop. But what they’re doing is they’re waiting for that 30 second time for that lactic acid to dissipate so that you can attack the muscle again. That’s why they go between different exercises to make the best use of our time. Now, why am I bringing this up? I’m talking about lifting weights, I’m talking about lactic acid, well think about it, that burn when you lift, to exhaustion, lift to completion. It’s familiar. If you think about when you go to stretch, and you go and stretch your hamstrings, you bend down, touch your toes, whatever, you feel a sensation that says Okay, stop. If you notice that it’s the same burn as the same feeling that if no, you don’t think so do a common stretch you’ve done before and push it to the point where you’ve had enough and see what kind of feeling you get what makes you say stop cut it out? Well, what Dr. Bracko proved in his studies was that that burn that you’re feeling is no different than the burn you’re feeling from lifting weights. In other words, the only way you get that burns material is muscle fiber. So if you’re tearing muscle fiber, before doing an exercise where your goal is to tear muscle fiber while you’re damaging the muscle before damaging the muscle. Now I speak a lot about tearing muscle fibers by the way, and we go off on this but tearing muscle fibers it’s a good thing. We’re breaking muscle tissue down. If any trainer, a physical therapist, occupational therapist, anybody that does it makes her living by doing exercises, having you conduct exercises ever tells you that they’re building something… Well, not really. Not directly. Indirectly, yes. But, every single one of those people, me included, are tearing fibers, we’re tearing things down, we’re tearing muscle tissue. Now, the way you grow muscle is tear fiber. Once you tear a muscle fiber, your body uses nutrients. If you have enough calories, have enough protein, then your body will use those data to build it back. Your body is the most intelligent machine that you’ve ever come across. We still don’t understand everything about it. So it’s an amazing thing. And it knows that hey, you know what, last time we had that muscle built up to a certain level, this time, we’re going to build a little stronger because evidently, it needs to be stronger. After all, it couldn’t handle what it handled last time. Think of muscle development like a hurricane. You know, we have a lot of those down on the Gulf Coast and other people have tornadoes, what have you. If you have a hurricane hit and you’ve got a straw house, you’re going to build your house back but I bet you build it out of wood this time. If a hurricane hits again, you’d rebuild it out of brick. You’re gonna build it stronger and stronger. Your Body Works that same way. That’s why we tear muscle fiber. So I talk about that a lot. I want to make sure I clear up that that’s a very good thing. But let’s get back to it. When I was talking about flexibility and stretching. You’re tearing muscle fibers, which releases lactic acid and tells you to stop that stretch. So we found out from Dr. Bracko’s talk that really, we need to be stretching, but not stretching beforehand. Now, the last thing I want you to take away from this is when you should stretch. And not only is there a time capacity on when you should stretch, but there are different ways to stretch. There are ways to go about starting a stretching routine or getting involved in the stretching routine. And it’s something that everybody needs to do. No matter if you’re an athlete, and average Joe, no matter your age, no matter any of it. And believe it or not, if you’ve been flexible before, you haven’t been flexible before, you’ve never been flexible in your life, you’re not able to do some things which you could at a younger age, now you can or whatever, it doesn’t matter what the situation is, you can be flexible, you can increase your flexibility in any muscle at any time. It’s very simple. And I’ll tell you why that is: Dr. Kenneth Cooper, you hear me mention him quite often because he is my boyhood friend and idol, and my hero in this business. He proved years ago, in his first studies done back in 1969 when he started this proving that we can regrow muscle at any age. And so if you can regrow muscle, you can break down muscle fibers and build it back then you can break down muscle fibers when you’re stretching and flexibility and build them back and you can become more and more flexible. It’s something that everybody knows we need, but very few people take the time to do. It is so important to us that we stretch every client in every single session. And it’s something that we manually do. We can encourage our clients to do that. We can give them a list of flexibility exercises, and typically don’t do that. And there’s a lot of times we don’t take advice and do those things because we don’t quite understand the importance of it. And what it does well, flexibility does, believe it or not, the stretching does prevent injury, it’s just we shouldn’t stretch before an exercise we should stretch afterward. But you do want to increase that range of motion between those joints. By doing that we’re going to have less of a tendency to pull a muscle by stepping off a curb into a pothole and pulling a hamstring. Believe it or not that there’s something very interesting. I told you that we should stretch after exercise, we shouldn’t stretch before exercise. Another surprising thing that most people don’t know is that a strong muscle is a flexible muscle. Believe it or not, the third most flexible athlete behind a dancer and a gymnast, believe it or not as a powerlifter. Now not a bodybuilder, but a powerlifter. And to think about these big fat guys in the Olympics that lift all this incredible amount of weight. It’s not unheard of to see one of those guys set a world record. And then drop into a split, as funny as it sounds. Because again, a strong muscle is a flexible muscle. I had a good friend of mine who was a powerlifter. We were in our master’s degree program together. And he had this bar trick that he would do when introducing himself to women. They would be talking, and he would bet them that he was more flexible than they were, as far as touching his toes, etc. And because he was a big guy, he was a powerlifter, they thought for sure there’s no way this guy could drop into a split or touch his toes or whatever. He got all kinds of phone numbers by just doing that simple little trick, as crazy as it sounds. But he was very strong. He knew that strong muscles are flexible muscles. Now back to stretching. There are several different types of stretching. We’ve heard of a lot of these, I want to get into descriptions of which one of these that we should do and sometimes what we should stay away from. Now I might get a lot of flack about this if people call in and have some different opinions about what I’m about to tell you. And by the way, if you’re interested in calling with any questions, we’d love to have your questions about any aspect of fitness and nutrition or lifestyle. You can reach us at our phone number which is 251-278-EDGE, that phone won’t be answered, but it’s a voicemail, we check it like a bodily function, we’d love to have your comments here or reach out to us via email at info at personalized contact us through our website, which is again We’re on Facebook @PersonalEdgeFitness. And our Twitter handle is @TeamPE. We love to have your comments. I’m afraid that I’m probably gonna get my email box loaded up with all kinds of comments because I’m gonna tell most people to stay away from ballistic stretching. This is something we’ve known for years. This is the old type of bending down, reaching for your toes, and bouncing up and down. Or sitting down reaching for your toes or doing any kind of stretch while you’re doing a repetitive movement into a full stretch and out of the full stretch. That’s the bouncing up and down. There was something we did in grade school. I remember it was “picking peas” or you know what I’m talking about, you know that the legs are kind of straddled when you’re standing up and you’re reaching in the front, in the middle, and in the back. And you’re kind of bouncing when you’re doing that. So we call it like picking peas or packing peanuts or something like that. That’s a type of ballistic stretching. I was watching a show that was set in the 1950s. And it had a lady’s exercise class and they were reaching down to their feet and they were bouncing up and down. That’s known as ballistic stretching. And we want to stay away from this because you’re pushing the muscle to full extension and then popping out of it and pushing back into it again and you’re doing it rapidly. But by doing that, that’s actually how you pull a muscle. So if you think about one of the main reasons you pull a muscle, it is because you have an imbalance between the muscles. It’s usually a quick burst. It’s not a slow pull that happens. It’s a quick burst that pulls the muscle and ballistic stretching is a rapid kind of movement. It’s one I’d stay away from. The one that we’re more familiar with is bending down and getting into a position to reach for a stretch and hold it for a good you know, 20, 30, or 35 seconds. This is what’s known as static stretching and it’s fantastic. It can be a little painful, because of what’s going on there, when you bend into the stretch, your muscle could stretch further. It sounds strange, but it could stretch further. The reason that it’s not stretching further is yours again, remember that intelligent machine, I told you the most intelligent machine you’ve ever known, which is your body, it knows that you’re pushing that muscle to its limit. And so it’s going to fight you. So what’s going to happen is as you go into that stretch, your muscles going to contract, let’s say it’s reaching down again, I keep saying touching your toes, but you’re reaching out to stretch your hamstring, you reach down for your foot, and you start to fill a major point or major burn in that hamstring. What’s happening in your body’s contracting the muscle; it’s fighting against you, because it knows its limit, it knows at what point you’re going to yank that muscle away from the bone. And so it’s going to contract and fight you well before you’ve gone into a full stretch. And so that’s what static stretching is about taking that patient’s sitting there through that little bit of that burn in that static stretching, if you come out of it and go back into it, sometimes you can go a little bit farther. Something very popular now, mainly because all the research that we’ve done is what’s called dynamic stretching. Now, this is what I’ve always said that a lot of the physical part of yoga thinks it is. And nothing against yoga, I think it is a fantastic modality, both physically and mentally. But dynamic stretching is the true physical part of that it’s movement-based stretching, even though you’re going into a stretch, but it’s a much more fluid way of moving through it stepping through and actually reaching for your toes, but sweeping down and coming back up so that you’re bending your back and arching your back. But you’re just doing it briefly and you’re passing through the difficult part of the stretch, you’re not bouncing down to it like a ballistic, you’re just slowly moving through it. And you repeat that. That’s a safe way of doing what we thought we were doing with ballistic stretching. There’s a class that we teach here at Personal Edge Fitness, we do Dynamic Stretching classes four days a week, and you’ll see people actually out moving around as they’re doing the stretching, they’re also increasing blood flow. So they’re creating a warm situation around that muscle. And if you warm up the muscle while y’all know as well as I do becomes a bit more pliable. The last type of stretching is my favorite. It’s one that we use with all of our clients at the end of every single session. And it’s called PNF stretching. Now watch this. This is fantastic. Hang on a second, I’m gonna need some water first to hydrate on this one.

I’m getting up to 80 ounces. Hope you’re keeping up. This last type of stretching is known as PNF stretching. I was involved in musical theater when I was a kid and I was in a version of Mary Poppins. So I know “Supercalifragilistic expialidocious”. I know some other big words. And the other ones I know are PNF which is proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Come on kids, let’s all say it together: Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. What this is, is taking that muscle to that point, when the stretch reflex kicks in. As an Exercise Physiologist, I know the muscles go farther than that, and another body’s fighting me. So what I want to do is I’m going to try to scramble the brain of that muscle. So now, believe me, you can’t follow your body all the time. But you can fold a little bit and briefly, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to put somebody into a stretch, and then I’m going to have them contract that muscle. Now what’s going to happen is, let’s say that somebody, somebody may be laying on one of our mat tables, with their leg up in the air, one leg on the mat, they’re laying on their back, one leg is up in the air, I’m holding that leg by the ankle and they push back against me. Now I don’t let the leg move, I hold it steady, doing what’s called an isometric exercise or pushing contracting that muscle will not tell them to relax, they’re pushing for about 10,15, or 20 seconds. But when I tell them to relax, the muscle relaxes completely because it’s ready to take a rest. And that means that the brain of the stretch reflex is scrambled a bit for just a few seconds. So when the muscle relaxes, I relax briefly, and then all of a sudden, I’ll start to push back against it. I’ll take until it’s full extension, what will usually happen, I’ll end up getting 2, 3, 4, or depending on how flexible the person is, 5 inches more out of that stretch. And at first, it does not hurt at all. I will push it to that point. I’ll hold it steady. The client feels like I’m continuing to push, but I’m not. I’m holding it in one spot. But all of a sudden that stretch reflex wakes up and it starts to fight back and fight back hard. But what has happened is, already it’s gained some flexibility. I’ve taught the muscle that it can move farther. We’ve torn some muscle fibers, Yes, but we’ve made it more flexible. We’ve taught it that it can go further. And that can be done because of what Dr. Cooper started proving in 1969. And has repeated the study over and over and over again- that we can regrow muscle at any age. Therefore you can become more flexible. No matter what age you are. No matter what folks, if it’s dynamic, if it’s static, stay away from ballistic. If it’s PNF if you’re doing partner stretching, what have you? It’s something that you want to have as part of your fitness routine. And if you’re not doing fitness is something you want to have in your daily routine. It just feels good. Remember I told you in an earlier post, I’m the kind that’s always asking “why”. I’m always gonna know why. Why does it make you feel better? Well, it makes your body more efficient. Therefore, the blood flow to those muscles is much easier. Oxygen equals energy. So you’ve got oxygenated blood going to the host, it’s gonna make you feel better, literally is gonna make you feel better. It’s gonna open up that joint which is not going to make you feel so tight, literally. So bound up, so uncomfortable for that matter. Best way to get involved with it: Start slow, folks like everything else in fitness. Start slow, go in easy with it. First and foremost, warm up. A warm-up is not stretching, a warm-up means increasing circulation. So take a walk, wake up, move around. So many people that have back trouble, especially wake up and tell me gosh, I get up in the morning, it hurts like anything. But after I move around a while everything feels better. Of course, it does. You’ve got blood flow there, you’ve got warming up going on. So get up, move a little bit. If you’re in a fitness facility, get on a cardio pace, go for three or four or five minutes, whatever, raise that heart rate a little bit until you feel a little bit warm, and then go slow in your stretches. Start easy. Start with smaller muscle groups, stretch those first. And be careful when you’re stretching not to use a small muscle group to stretch, especially a cold, large muscle group. Now what I mean by that; I keep talking about touching your toes, that’s a common stretch a lot of people do. If you’re just doing a simple overhead, leaning over toward your toes and hanging a bit. That’s not as dangerous as trying to force that stretch. Because what you’re doing is you’re using a small lower back muscle to stretch a large hamstring muscle. So be careful. You want to try to set yourself up so that you’re stretching big muscles without involving the small muscles as much as possible. The best thing I say you ought to do on that is to remember that my wife tells me that all the time, seek professional help. Somebody that has a degree in Exercise Science, or Exercise Physiology, or an Athletic Trainer can show you the proper way to stretch or can do some stretching for you. And have patience. Patience is a virtue on this, especially in static stretching, especially in PNF stretching. Believe it or not, I can take somebody that’s extremely cold, even with a weak hamstring, and I can hold them in a stretch with that stretch reflex fighting me. If we had an unlimited amount of time, if we had hours, I can take almost any person and take their leg over their head. Simple. What will happen is that the stretch reflex will tighten up and then relax. Muscles have soft tissue, it will stretch. It’s pliable. It’s like a rubber band. You just have to be patient with this. If you’re patient and doing static stretching, you’re not going to hurt yourself. Plus, you’re going to increase your flexibility. Pablo said a minute ago you can feel a heck of a lot better. Hey, listen, thank you so much for reading along today, I appreciate it. I’m Garrett Williamson. This is the personal Edge Fitness Blog. Remember, stay hydrated.

Thanks for reading the Personal Edge Fitness Blog, by Garrett Williamson. Ask questions by calling 251-278-EDGE (3433) or message us on Facebook and Instagram @PersonalEdgeFitness or @TeamPE on Twitter and visit us at