Strength Not Length

How to Rise and Shine | OD'ing on Bad Advice | Little Mermaid Band-Aids, Smoke-Jumpers & Tsunamis as Surgical Interventions

How to Rise and Shine 

1. Drink two cups of cold water, followed by two cups of favourite tea.

2. Morning Strengthening Routine:

  • Externally rotated scapular retraction, 2 sets x 30 reps

  • Serratus Anterior Push-up, 2 sets x 15 reps


OD'ing on Bad Advice

Stretching is the single most over-prescribed idea in all of "alternative" or natural health-care. It's been demonstrated time after time that stretching does not carry with it the benefits <— (comprehensive analysis of the lack of evidence for stretching) most people believe they're receiving. Not only that, but the “positive” demonstrable effects are dubious at best.

If doling out stretching recommendations required a medical license, then almost every “alternative” or natural health-care practitioner I’ve ever heard of would end up being sued for malpractice.
— moi

This is especially true for the shoulder. If there is one area of the body you should essentially never stretch, look no further than the shoulder.

Here we have a joint complex that is literally held onto the body almost exclusively by muscle.

Apart from the tiny acromioclavicular joint and a handful of other capsule ligaments in the gleno-humeral joint, there is nothing in the way of ligamentous tissue maintaining a tight articulation with the axial skeleton. 

Instead, evolution has given us an incredibly mobile and versatile, but ultimately delicate series of joints that are held together by 17 distinct muscles, each performing a variety of functions. By understanding the context within which the shoulder complex actually operates, it becomes easier to see why the standard operating recommendations so often result in pain or prolonged injury. 

Muscles are made to contract, that's all there is to it.

They have natural elastic, contractile, extensible, and excitable properties that do not require a new-age ideology to operate.

The length of your muscle is more or less set at birth through your given genetics. All things being equal, a joint will only function optimally when the muscles that cross the joint are sufficiently excited/stimulated on a regular basis, so that the resting tone of the muscle is sufficient and the joint surfaces in question may articulate with one another absent any abnormal motions. 

This is essentially the practical study of human bio-mechanics. 

In the case of the shoulder, any permutation of these 17 muscles not functioning properly/not strong enough in relation to the others, will alter the mechanics of the shoulder joint and potentially cause pain due to incorrect articulations/grinding—and this is not to mention the pain that arises from the weak muscles themselves. 

Stretching exacerbates all of this. When weakness is present in any of the 17 muscles—which is most of the time due to failing to strengthen the muscles as outlined in the videos above—then stretching is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. 

Little Mermaid Band-Aids, Smoke-Jumpers, & Tsunamis as Surgical Interventions 

Why then do we feel some temporary relief when we stretch an already weakened area? 

I’m confident that the sense of relief we get from stretching is at once highly localized, individualized, and also extremely temporary.

In short, when a previously weakened area gradually becomes riddled with trigger points (tiny bundles of 'tangled' oxygen starved tissue) over the course of months or years, then taking the muscle to an extreme range of motion is going to bring a finite amount of circulation rushing into the area, thus providing some small amount of relief.

Though upon returning to a regular anatomical position, the circulation and thus 'relief' quickly dissipate. 

This is why stretching is the little mermaid band-aid of muscular rehabilitation. It has very limited effects—if any at all—and is really only meant to “prime” the nervous system for activity when waking up in the morning.

The next leap up from there is massage therapy. This isn't to compare the two, because massage therapy is orders of magnitude more effective than stretching when it comes to repairing deficient bio-mechanics. 


The reason here is that while stretching may passively bring a small amount of circulation to the affected area, by applying direct deep pressure, massage is basically the smoke-jumper of the muscle rehab world, dumping orders of magnitude more circulation into the affected area.   

Often times, a few passes of the aerial firefighter will be enough to douse the flames, and allow the system to return to normal. 

This is all well and good, but there are times when more substantial forms of work need to be completed in order to return to normal. 

In the event that several massages are needed to 'rectify' altered bio-mechanics and diminishing muscular strength, it is all but certain that a defined strength training routine must be undertaken, not only to heal the pain, but to make the system robust enough so that it doesn't simply fail once more when the intervention is complete.

Because strength training is the ultimate tsunami of blood and oxygen perfusion into the muscle, is it also the surgical intervention of the muscular rehab world.

Even if optimizing range of motion alone is your ultimate goal, then strength training is still your best bet.

As previously mentioned, joints function optimally through a natural full 'functional' range when the muscles that cross those joints are optimally strong. 

In the absence of strength in, say, the biceps and the triceps, the elbow joint will not only not function optimally, but the range of motion of the joint will eventually diminish as well, and once this occurs, attempting to stretch will be positively counterproductive.

Thinking in terms of strength, not length, is the only way to efficiently bring the system back to normal.