I’ve brought my kids to their soccer games many times. I had to get up early on Saturday morning because they had to do one hour of stretching and warm-ups obligatorily. I never understood the meaning and justification of that stolen sleep hour.

It’s assumed that a muscle has an ideal length from which it generates a more efficient action and is better protected against injury. If you don’t stretch the muscles before doing exercise, it seems you won’t get enough speed. It’s assumed that the muscle is shortened, contractured, hyper-viscous and that we need to wake it up, stretch it to its optimum length where it theoretically is more efficient and robust. Stretching, they say, softens the reflex response of stretching, a muscular base tone maintained by the neural activity responsible for responding to the stretching of the muscle fibers (responsible for the classic patellar reflex). The stretching would soften that reflex activity allowing more muscle length during the exercise.

Biomechanics is very complex and it’s beyond me when I try to understand what physically happens in a muscle when it’s at rest or moves. There are many factors that influence the muscle work. Until recently, biomechanics explained everything, but it seems there was a factor that was ignored: the sensation of stretching. The stretch limit is set by not only the biomechanical properties, but also the sensation of “I can tolerate it up to this point”.

Maybe the stretching allows greater muscle length. The induced biomechanical changes may have an influence, but perhaps the most crucial is that the perceptual tolerance threshold of the individual has changed, has adapted. Really we don’t stretch the muscle, but the tolerance to stretching. At least it’s a factor to consider. The same happens with joint stiffness. In addition to the physical resistance to movement, to action, there is the perception of stiffness.

The perceptive factor is fundamental in the action.

Biomechanics should always include a person who internalizes the motion, a brain that sets limits based on evaluations.

There is no agreement in the goodness and necessity of stretching. It seems that the warming-up, the gradual contact with the scenarios, the biomechanical, neuronal and psychological adaptation to future actions is beneficial.

I’m still wondering what was the point of that damn stretching hour on Saturday morning … In our time, we didn’t stretch.

We were always prepared to play soccer with any object that, more or less, rolled when kicking it during the school breaks.

This entry was posted in action by arturo goicoechea. Bookmark the permalink.

About arturo goicoechea

Born in Mondragón, Guipúzcoa, in 1946. Head of the Neurology Department at the Santiago Hospital in Vitoria (Álava), Spain. Published books: Jaqueca, 2004. Depresión y dolor, 2006. Cerebro y dolor (Esquemas en dolor neuropático) 2008. Migraña, una pesadilla cerebral, 2009.

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