Within each joint there is an optimal range of motion (ROM) that is essential for peak performance.
STRETCHING refers to the process of elongating the muscles to improve ROM.
BENEFITS of STRETCHING1. Maintains flexibility.
2. Improves balance, coordination and posture.
3. Helps alleviate lower back pain.
4. Helps improve circulation and cardiovascular health.
5. Decreases risk of injury.
TYPES of STRETCHING (in alphabetical order):
Active Isolated StretchingActive isolated stretching is most commonly used by professional athletes before their workout. For the not so conditioned exerciser these stretches can be done during a resistance workout. To complete an active isolated stretch, you reach a certain position and hold it steady without any assistance other than the strength of your own muscles. The stretch should be held for no more than two seconds. Repeat up to ten times, each time exceeding the previous point of resistance by a few degrees. These stretches are done by flexing the muscle opposite the one you are stretching.
Examples: Flex the quadriceps when you want to stretch your hamstrings; flex your biceps when you want to stretch your triceps.
Ballistic StretchingThis type of stretching is typically used for athletic drills and utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group. The momentum of these bouncing movements are designed to force the limb to go beyond it’s normal range of motion. The momentum also has great potential to cause injury. Only highly conditioned and competent athletes preparing for strenuous activity should employ it.
Example: Practicing a baseball swing at fast speed.
Dynamic StretchingThe use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the exercise or sport to be performed. Generally speaking, the purpose of dynamic stretching is to improve flexibility for a given sport or activity. They are slow and smooth movements.
Examples: Practicing a baseball swing at slow speed; going through the motions of a squat without any weight.
Isometric StretchingAn isometric stretch is basically a static stretch (see below) with resistance. As the muscle is stretched into position, you resist the stretch. For example, have a partner hold your leg up high while you attempt to force back your leg in the opposite direction.
Myofascial ReleaseThrough the use of a foam roller or similar device, myofascial release relieves tension and improves flexibility in the fascia (densely woven connective tissue binding some structures together, while permitting others to slide smoothly over each other). Small, continuous back-and-forth movements are performed over an area of 2 to 6 inches for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat each motion ten to twenty times. Your individual pain tolerance will determine the amount of pressure applied to the target area.
Example: Sit up, back straight, legs extended straight out, arms supporting your torso. Place 6 inch foam roller under your legs. Roll back and forth, from your knees to your hip. Slow and controlled motion.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation combines isometric, static and passive stretching to foster a high level of flexibility. Perform it by passively stretching a muscle; isometrically contracting it against resistance in the stretched position; and passively stretching it through the resulting increased range of motion. It is an advanced form of flexibility training that also helps improve strength. It usually requires more time than other stretching methods. It is often done with a partner or health and professional. A band or other device can be used instead of a partner. This type of stretching is actually the most effective form of stretching, but it is also considered the most painful type of stretching. This technique is out of the question for beginners, because it is simply too dangerous for anyone who has no formal training in flexibility and strength. The routine is:
- 10 seconds of a passive stretch
- Hold and resist force applied by the fitness professional or device, causing an isometric contraction in the target muscle group, for 6 seconds.
- Relax the muscle group and allow a passive stretch; hold for 30 seconds in a more (deeper) stretched position than with the contraction above to increase range of motion (ROM).
- Repeat the above three steps at least one more time (no more than two). This constitutes one set. Do 1 to three sets per muscle being stretched.
Example: Hamstring stretch – Start by lying on floor with one leg fully extended.
Static StretchingInvolves stretching a body part to its farthest position and then holding it for 15 - 60 seconds. It does not involve bouncing or rapid movements, just a mild, painless pulling sensation. DO NOT BOUNCE. Repeat each stretch 2 or 3 times. You should feel the stretch through the entire length and center of the muscle and not in the joints. You should feel tension on the muscle; NOT PAIN! Passive static stretching is when added force is applied by an external force; a partner or assistive device, to increase intensity.
Example: Quadriceps (quad) stretch - Stand next to a table or chair if you need to hold on for balance. Bend one knee and slowly bring the foot up behind you. Grab onto your foot or ankle using your hand on the same side as your foot. Keep your back straight and do not allow your upper body to bend forward at the hips. Hold for 15 to 60 seconds. Slowly lower your foot back down to the ground. Repeat four times on each leg.
DO NOT HURT YOURSELF.
DO NOT PUSH YOURSELF PAST YOUR LIMITS. Sorry – but if you don’t know your limits you probably shouldn’t be exercising.
WARM UPS - Stretching is NOT a WARM UP.NEVER stretch until after you have warmed up! First you need to warm up your whole body. Do 5 to 10 minutes of low intensity cardio exercise. Then do some exercises that will prepare the muscles you are going to use in your exercises. For example, when preparing for the bench press:
- 5 – 10 minutes on a treadmill, elliptical or similar.
- Several sets of push ups or some partials. With half the weight you would normally bench, lift the weight from half way up to the fully extended position. One or two sets should be enough.
- DON’T OVER DO THE WARM UPS!
During or After - Not BeforeSTRETCHING – There continues to be a lot of research about the benefits of stretching. Most of us should probably be stretching DURING or AFTER our resistance workout – NOT BEFORE!!
Learn the different stretches I have outlined above.
Learn which one(s) work for YOUR body... And that’s the BOTTOM LINE: Only you can know what works for you. Try them – but if you are new at it – PLEASE BE GENTLE!!
Sources used to prepare this article: