So where are we? We’ve covered the different flavors of stretching. I now need to go back to something I said in Part I: No human movement is possible without stretching. This is going to get a little more complicated before it gets simple–but I promise to give you information that you can actually use outside the game of Jeopordy!
Each time we move, we use energy stored in stretched muscles to drive our limb into movement. When I take a step forward for instance, I hit the outer part of my heel and it rolls inward (calcaneal eversion). The arch of my foot pronates a bit, and it pulls my calf muscles (soleus, gastrocnemius, posterior tibialis, among others) inward which takes my lower leg (tibia) inward into internal rotation. At the same time, my body is moving forward over my ankle which creates dorsiflexion. The tibial internal rotation also causes my knee to flex and internally rotate. Once the knee moves in, it pulls on the IT band which is attached to my glute complex and now my glutes lengthen both forward and inward and my hip flexes–and if my hip is functioning properly it will move sideways into adduction in the direction of this leg that just took a forward stride. So all these muscles have worked and stretched to keep my foot and leg from collapsing into the earth. Now these muscles have all been turned on and with the energy stored inside them like stretched rubber bands they will propel me forward into my next stride.
Without going into every single action, the muscles and limbs of the opposite leg are contracting and creating extension, external rotation and abduction (though the adductors are stretching and slowing external rotation of the femur) at the hip, extension and external rotation at the knee, and plantarflexion and external rotation at the calf and ankle, and supination at the foot.
WOW!!! Are you kidding me!! What a lot of stuff!! And that’s the story from just from the waist down! All that and this lady can still manage to smoke a cigarette. Did you notice how many muscles were stretched in this process, and in what directions? Parts were moving forward, back, inward, outward and sideways. As Gary Gray terms it, this is 3-D loading to exploding.
In all seriousness, this sequence of events must happen in order for our bodies to efficiently produce force and absorb shock. Each stretch of each muscle in turn activates muscles up the line. If this process is inhibited (could be due to injury, sitting too much, doing the same thing over and over and over, or who-knows-what) then we tend to get knee pain, back pain even shoulder or neck pain.
These movements aren’t just important for walking and running. Proper movement in all three dimensions is vital for cyclists, skiers, dancers, even swimmers–even though their movement patterns are different from walkers and runners.
In Part III I’ll build on this whole process and show you an effective way to mobilize some important regions of the body via dynamic stretching.