It is commonly believed that stretching could physically “lengthen” muscles and other soft tissues (such as tendons and fascia) by holding a stretch for an extended period of time or through all sorts of stretching techniques with fancy names. It is easy to believe this is the case because the muscle that is stretched feels looser and has an improved range of motion after you stretch it! However, it turns out it is a bit more complicated than this, scientific research has looked very closely at the ability of muscles and soft tissues in both humans and animals and found that even after hours of held stretching, muscles and soft tissues do not physically become “longer”, instead they only become more willing to be stretched. This scientific term for this is called “Stretch tolerance” and is primarily function of your nervous system.
It turns out what makes the body prevent a muscle from stretching is that the muscle has a set programmed limit of available length and motion that is maintained by the nervous system to prevent the muscle from overstretching and potentially causing an injury. The same “danger” sensors and nerve pathways related to monitoring injury, strictly regulate how long muscles and soft tissues can move. We can override these set programs with our stretching or mobilization exercises immediately, as well as in the long term with regular frequent stretching, to allow the muscle to move more readily and feel less tight/tense.
By understanding this science, we have learned there are a number of other ways to get the nervous system to allow a muscle or a body region to move a little easier without having to do intense or frequent stretches/mobilization exercises. We can do this by playing with movement and even imagining your movement. These movement experiments can make some very quick improvements in range of motion and movement quality without too much effort. See some examples of this in the videos below. Be on the look out for more of these!