Have You Heard You Should Stretch To “Release” Tight Muscles?
Feeling tightness in or around your pelvis, back, hips, belly or elsewhere? Have you then been told by well-meaning friends, or even health and fitness pros, that you need to stretch to release them or to prepare for delivery?
While stretching can be beneficial in pregnancy for other reasons, we think it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between stretching a muscle (or any soft tissue in the body) and releasing it. They are not the same thing!
You see, when you stretch a muscle, you are still loading it with tension. It’s a different kind of loading than you do in weight-lifting or a strength-based yoga posture, but it still places a demand on the tissue. The tissue isn’t in a resting state during a stretch. Think of a taught rubber band. Would you call that relaxed? Probably not.
Relaxing a muscle is what you do when you remove load completely, or as completely as you can, so that the tissue is without the demand placed by weight, resistance, or tension. Think of a floppy rubber band. That’s relaxed!
If you’re feeling a lot of tension, it could be that your muscles are over-worked past what they’re used to, and your nervous system has responded by sending tension signals to the area to help protect it. You can think of tension in your body as caution tape your nervous system has wrapped around the area.
Stretching can be beneficial, and you should do it if you enjoy it–our nervous systems love it when we do pleasurable things–but we actually recommend focused relaxation to release tension more than we do focused stretching. Strength-training is also absolutely key, and we’ll expand on that in a later post.
We especially recommend focused pelvic rest during pregnancy as your growing abdomen places greater and greater demand on your pelvic muscles. Giving them dedicated time off, particularly with focused imagery and breathing technique, can be a hugely beneficial part of your self-care during pregnancy, and may even be more effective for “releasing” muscles and preparing for delivery than any stretch would be. Pelvic muscles–the ones that hold in pee and give way for baby during a vaginal birth–that know how to relax, and that aren’t exhausted from being chronically over-worked, are more likely to function optimally, keeping pee in during stresses like a sneeze, and letting baby out when it’s time!
So we’re not saying don’t stretch. It definitely has its place—we do it in our classes! But true rest, something we don’t get enough of in our lives, can really make a difference.
Need more relaxation? We incorporate focused rest, and teach tips and techniques for doing it at home, in all of our classes. Book now by going to our website!