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How much physical training, including stretching, should I do? BY ANTHONY LETT

I’m often asked this question by students, and there isn’t a simple answer. Why? Because we vary in so many ways, including the degree of training load and its variables like volume, frequency, intensity and duration that we can tolerate and adapt to. In fact, we need to ask a series of questions including how many sessions per week, how many stretches each session per muscle group, and how long to hold each stretch. In the next few weeks we will discuss these issues.

Human Variation In “Biochemical Individuality” Roger Williams outlines just some of our differences “Every human being is a deviate in some respect. There is no normal and no abnormal, only you in all your uniqueness, and this uniqueness will determine what, of all of life’s offerings is available for you to partake in, and what you should, with wisdom, leave on the plate. We have differences in blood chemistry, personality, diet, lifestyle, body shape, height, weight, blood pressure, length of arms relative to spine, genes, tendon to muscle length, organ weights, blood volume, amount of curvature of leg bones, depth of hip sockets and the list goes on.” Little wonder, therefore, that exercise tolerance is an individual affair.


The exercise/stress cycle

Adaptations to stretching

Below is a simple example to give you some general insight into what’s involved in exercise and adaptation. First, a stressor (the exercises) is applied and then there’s a rest period during which time adaptation occurs. The cycle is then repeated, with gradually greater stressors applied. If you continue to apply the same stress, your body, which has already adapted, will not be called upon or stimulated to adapt any further. If you apply too much stress, similarly your body will not adapt because the stress load exceeds your recuperative capacity.

Sandpaper as a stressor The stress response to lifting weights is muscle growth. Muscle tissues become larger, called hypertrophy. The stress response to sandpaper rubbing is thickened skin. The response to stretching is muscle elongation. Cells grow minutely longer. A second adaptation also occurs, a “neural” adaptation- the reprogramming of the centers in the brain that record what your body considers the normal length of muscle, and normal ranges of movement. The “normal” length is recalibrated. Other adaptations include your response to the sensation of pain during a stretch. If you persevere, stretching is not as painful, and when it becomes so, you can tolerate the discomfort with less reactivity. All of this takes time and experimentation. Time for If you rub sandpaper on the palm of your hands each day,

adaptation, and time for the experimentation needed to

you will end up with no skin, and very sore and bloodied

find the effective dose for YOU. I call it “wise practice.”

hands.

Flogging your body day after day is not the way.

If you rub sandpaper on the palm of your hands every

I read a T-shirt a few weeks ago emblazoned with the

three or four days, you will end up with thickened skin

slogan “Train Insane.” Really!? Following this advice will

which is stronger and more resistant to the stress of the

surely lead to injury, and who wants to cultivate insanity

sandpaper.

anyway? “Train with your Brain” is a better modus operandi for long-term health I would suggest!

Why so? Because, in the days between the rubbing of the sandpaper, your body has time for rest, recovery and adaptation. This includes the growth of new, specialized cells. All physical stress drives adaptation if there is adequate time for rest before the next stress is applied. If this is combined with a safe and effective dose, you will get a positive adaptation.


What’s the verdict?

Bottom line?

So, back to the initial question. Experience tells us that

Flexibility, just like every other physical quality, needs to

stretch training achieves optimum results if practiced

be trained with intention and consistency. You need a

around 3 times per week. There’s a caveat though-the

program. Your program will vary of course depending on

effort needs to be serious! Bouncing in and out of a stretch

how you feel. Start out with 3 sessions per week, stretching

for 10- or 20-seconds won’t do.

all of your major muscle groups at 60% of your maximum tolerance, for two or three minutes per muscle group.

Stretches need to be held for 2 to 3 minutes at around 60% of your maximum capacity. Each muscle group needs to be

In one month, you should be feeling significantly freer,

targeted specifically on every occasion for adaptation to

easier and more graceful in your movements. In 6 months,

occur. Unlike “cardio” training for example, the adaptations

you won’t know yourself. Aches and pains will be a distant

are not systemic. So, you won’t experience an overall

memory and you will have a vitality that you had 20 years

improvement in the quality of flexibility just by stretching

ago. Sound too good to be true? Give it a go! You’ve only

a few muscles. You will become more flexible only in the

got your stiffness to lose.

muscles and joints that you target.

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How Often Should I Stretch  

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