Holding a stretch, especially before and after a workout, improves performance and prevents injury…or so we were all told…But now, after years warming up and down with toe touches, forward bends and the famous “Runner’s Stretch”,  the benefits of holding a 20-30 second stretch is proving to be an injurious time waster.

We imagine holding a stretch results in the muscle letting go of tension, getting softer and longer, turning from a tight band into a nice long gooey one. But because a muscle cannot stretch without contraction, when stretched it becomes tighter rather than limber. It’s really only in our minds that the stretched muscle feels loose enough to go for that mile run; in reality, stretching it has just made it more contracted and therefore more vulnerable to injury.
So how best to prepare our bodies for intense physical activity?
A thorough and effective exercise preparation requires participation of brain and body.
What looks like a stretch, when done with mindfulness, breath and movement, is really a form of pandiculation. A complicated word but a simple concept: pandiculation is simply awareness and organic movement to stretch and release into and out of a certain pattern of contraction. And it’s a lot easier than stretching.
Reaching your arms high over your head away from our torso to form a star shape (think of a standing snow angel) and waving your arms in slow motion like tentacles in a kind of moving stretch is panticulation. Its like doing “the Wave” with the intention of expanding.
Muscles are lengthened, joints are lubricated, more space is introduced to the body’s interior and the brain releases chemicals to change the resting levels of the muscles. These complexities create a body that is ready for movement and physical challenge.
If pandiculation sounds too weird to try in public, consider this natural way of moving allows graceful movement that doesn’t slow down, tire out or injure the body. Its what dogs and cats do when they bend into a pose we call “downward dog”. Rather than a static pose, this moving, expanding expression is an animal’s preparation for movement.
The easy natural movement of pandiculation primes your body and brain for the physical demands you are going to make and you won’t hurt afterwards.