Rethinking Stretching and Strengthening

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Movement is mostly automatic – a habit. Like most other habits, desirable and otherwise, our posture and related patterns of movement are learnt behaviours. A product of nature vs. nurture. A sum of our life experiences and our mind and body’s reaction to those experiences. These experiences may include simple injury, trauma, repetitive postural stress, and strain through work and sport, a stressful life event, or simply, bad postural habits and a sedentary lifestyle.

There is mounting evidence that altered control of posturo-movement is associated with most musculoskeletal pain disorders. The basic problem is how the brain directs the muscles to work. Movement patterns begin to change with less options and variety in the performance of simple physical tasks, such as getting out of bed in the morning or bending to pick something off the floor, as well as more complex tasks such as running and sport. Much like worn out tyres on a car with bad wheel alignment, this can contribute to the development of various symptoms – strains, pains, sprains, aches, stiffness, ‘aging pains’, balance problems and so on. In a sense, our once good movement habits are unlearned by the brain.

Importantly, over time, the repetitive nature of these entrenched, less ideal movement habits mean that certain muscles in the body become overused and tight (hence the feeling of needing to stretch), while other muscles are hardly used and become weakened (hence the perceived need to strengthen).

Mind over matter

However, stretching and strengthening these muscles in isolation does not necessarily mean our brain relearns healthy movement habits, or that we are able to move with more ease and less discomfort. You cannot strengthen a muscle that the brain is not using! In the act of stretching and strengthening single muscles, poor patterns of motor control are often reinforced and we learn even more substitution habits to compensate – a short term solution.

Stretching and strengthening is mind over matter. Recognition and correction of these inefficient movement habits, with new awareness and correct guidance, is often the key to managing those aches and pains long term – much like saying what the mind perceives the body achieves.

The Key Moves™ Programme of Therapeutic Exercise and Movement Classes provides the opportunity to relearn effective control of ‘key movements’ while also incorporating elements of healthy ‘stretching’ and ‘strengthening’.