Fun fact…..muscles and other soft tissue have different ranges of stretch. There is an elastic stretch or a plastic stretch. An elastic stretch is when the tissue stretches, but then returns to its original length. This is similar to a rubber band stretching and contracting. In a plastic stretch the muscle, or other tissue, remodels and takes on new shape or length. This is important because to make a real difference for tight muscles you need to hold a stretch long enough to help that muscle find permanent lengthening.
This is also true of connective tissue, such as fascia. Fascia is a weblike tissue that surrounds each muscle fiber and the muscle as a whole. Sometimes when we feel stiff and tight it helps to bring pliability to the fascia. This is where stretching can really help. Since fascia surrounds muscle, stretching the muscles also stretches fascia. Unfortunately, many people stretch briefly before or after a workout and some rarely stretch at all. If you’re wondering why your muscles are tight even though you’re stretching, perhaps it’s time to slow down and hold your stretches longer. It is also important to stretch regularly. A weekly yoga class is great, but in between you should still stretch daily to provide the suppleness you may be seeking.
In order to reach the plastic phase of a stretch, you should stretch for ninety seconds or more. This can happen in one long stretch or can be broken up into two or three stretches, i.e. repeating a thirty second stretch three times. To get even more benefit, try incorporating breath. First, slow your breath. Then come into a stretch and set a thirty second timer. While you’re in the stretch count your breath cycles (a breath cycle includes an inhale and exhale). Then you’ll know how many of your breath cycles are in a thirty second time block. Now you can count breaths, instead of using a timer, when you stretch. In addition to getting a good stretch, this practice is very relaxing and can lower blood pressure and heart rate.
In answer to the title question, “Are your muscles plastic or elastic?” The simple and technical answer is that they are neither. Your muscles are of course made up of muscle fibers and fascia, which have the ability to stretch into a plastic or elastic range. A more philosophical answer may be that your muscles may now be elastic, but aspire to be plastic. Thus, remodeling into a more efficient or desirable length and shape.
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