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Unlocking the Secrets to Flexibility: How Stretching and the Nervous System Work Together

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

A blonde woman is demonstrating deep flexibility in an advanced yoga pose.

Do you ever wonder what's happening inside your body when you stretch? How is it that some people can effortlessly touch their toes or perform advanced yoga poses while others struggle? The secret to flexibility lies in the complex interplay between your muscles, connective tissues, and your brain and spinal cord. It's all about the communication that happens between this systems!

The Art of Stretching: Gaining Flexibility One Muscle at a Time

We've all experienced that moment when stretching a muscle like the hamstring where it feels like it just won't budge any further. You might think that the limited range of motion comes solely from tight muscles and tendons. It's more than that. The brain and spinal cord play a significant role in regulating your flexibility.

At the heart of this regulation are specialized sensory receptors called muscle spindles. These receptors, located in the muscle belly, detect changes in muscle length and provide information to the brain. The brain, in turn, processes this information and adjusts the sensitivity of the muscle spindles and the tone of the muscles throughout the body.

Consistent Stretch Training: The Key to Greater Flexibility

By consistently training your body to become more flexible, you can improve your flexibility and range of motion within months or even weeks!

Consistent stretching teaches your nervous system to trust your muscles to stretch further without causing injury.

The brain then adjusts the sensitivity of the muscle spindles and the stopping point in your range of motion, allowing you to stretch even further.

A woman in black tights and a black tank top is demonstrating flexibility in an advanced yoga pose. She's standing on a fuschia colored yoga mat.

Your body has a built-in protective mechanism called the stretch reflex, which prevents your muscles from stretching too far or too fast. When a muscle is stretched too far or too quickly, it contracts, and the opposing muscle relaxes. This reflex is vital for preventing injuries during stretching and flexibility training.

Incorporating Flexibility Training into Your Fitness Routine:

To maximize the benefits of stretch training, it's essential to incorporate it consistently into your fitness routine. Here are some tips to help you get started:

Stretch regularly: Aim to stretch each muscle group at least two to three times per week.

Take it slow: Avoid bouncing or jerking movements during stretching, as this can trigger the stretch reflex and limit your flexibility gains.

Unless you know other stretching techniques, hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds: This allows your muscles and nervous system to adapt and become more flexible.

Listen to your body: Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, not pain, and always respect your body's limits.

I think of flexibility training as a form of self-trust training.

Improving your flexibility and range of motion isn't just about stretching your muscles—it's also about training your nervous system to trust and adapt to new movements. With consistent stretch training, you'll not only be able to explore and utilize your body's increased range of motion, you'll also reduce your risk of injury, and improve your posture and athletic performance.

Amira Lamb is performing a straddle split outside on the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn, NY. She's wearing black shorts and a purple sports bra.


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