In a recent New York Times article about stretching, Gretchen Reynolds reported on the largest study ever conducted on the effectiveness of stretching. The results showed that…
stretching makes no difference one way or the other as far as injury prevention is concerned.
The percentage of those runners assigned to do 20 second static stretches before every run, was identical to the group assigned to the “no stretching” regimen. The study was conducted over the course of three months.
Dr. Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the Web site The Science of Sport said, “There is a very important neurological effect of stretching. There is a reflex that prevents the muscle from being stretched too much.” This is exactly what Hanna Somatic Educators have taught their clients for years: the reflex Dr. Tucker refers to is called the “stretch reflex.” It is invoked by static stretching, and induces the muscle to contract back against the stretch, in effect making it tighter than it was before. This is a reflex that protects the muscle.
Reynolds goes on to write, that “Dynamic stretching, or exercises that increase your joints’ range of motion via constant movement, does not seem to invoke the inhibitory reflex of static stretching, Dr. Tucker said. When “you stretch through movement, you involve the brain much more, teaching proprioception and control, as well as improving flexibility.”
Pandiculation improves muscle function at the level of the nervous system.
Hanna Somatic Educators have been teaching students for decades not to stretch to change muscle length, but rather to pandiculate. Pandiculation is a brain reflex action pattern that animals do. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does; he’ll put his front paws out and lengthen his back as he relaxes his belly. This “wakes up” the muscular system at the level of the brain, so that the brain is always in control of the muscles.
The action of pandiculation re-sets muscle length and brain level control of muscles and movement. when you release muscles in this manner, balance, proprioception, and coordination is improved, and this alone can prevent knee, hip, and back injuries when running.
Phil Wharton, well known author of the Wharton Stretch Book, now agrees that contracting a muscle first, then moving it through its range of motion is much more effective than simple, static stretching. Dynamic stretching, however similar to pandiculation, isn’t as effective if you don’t incorporate muscles in the center of the body, from which all movement originates. Think of an animal, first contracting its back muscles, then slowly and deliberately lengthening them only as far as is comfortable for them to go – then doing the exact same thing with the muscles of the front of the body.
Think about your typical athletic stretches and see if you can find a way to pandiculate them - meaning tighten the muscles FIRST, then slowly lengthen them to a comfortable length, then completely relax them. This can be done with hamstrings, quadriceps, waist muscles, triceps, biceps, you name it!
Here’s a short video that shows a couple of easy pandiculations you can do prior to your run. Try them out and see what you think. To learn these and other Somatic Exercises that can teach you to reverse your pain and regain freedom of movement, click here.