How many times have you heard the advice “Don’t forget to stretch?” But when it comes to stretching, there are so many mixed messages from when you’re supposed to do it (before exercise? after? before and after?), to how long to hold a stretch, to the best ways to do it, to why to do it in the first place. Here’s a primer to help you get to the bottom of all those claims and unanswered questions.

Who should stretch ?

Everyone can learn to stretch regardless of age or flexibility.

You do not need to be in top physical condition or specific athletic skills.

Whenever you

  • sit at your desk,
  • dig ditches,
  • do house work,
  • stand at an assembly line,
  • drive a truck or exercise regularly.

The same technique of stretching applies.

The method is gentle and easy, conforming to individual differences in muscle tension and flexibility.

So, if you are healthy, without any physical problems, you can learn how to stretch safely and enjoyably.

Why is it important to be flexible?

Being flexible helps to reduce your chance of injury when performing physical activities. When working, doing chores around the house, or participating in sports.

If you are not flexible your joints will not move properly through their full range of motion. leading to other muscles trying to do the job that the tight or inflexible muscle is trying to do.

These muscular imbalances lead your body down the wrong path when they force other muscles to compensate for the tight ones.

For example: If your calf muscle is too tight, other leg muscles will force the knees to move outward or inward

Instead of bending straight over the 2nd toe. when  for example you squat down to pick something up off the floor.

Wrong movements occur many times over the course of time, other parts of your body get out of alignment, which eventually causes pain or injury.  

When to stretch before or after workout ?

Some coaches, trainers and textbooks recommend stretching before and after your workout.

It can help your performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Yet, many research studies has shown that some types of stretching can enhance your workout.  While others do not improve or reduce your athletic capabilities.

But, there’s no evidence that stretching before or after exercise will do you any harm, either.

The upshot is if you enjoy stretching, or it is a staple in your exercise routine, there’s no reason to stop.

How long should you hold a stretch to increase flexibility ?

According to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM 2006) recommends holding a stretch from 15 to 30 seconds.

It can be dangerous to stretch a cold muscle.  Once you’re ready to stretch. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds, release for 5 seconds, and then execute again, holding for 10-30 seconds.  Repeat two or three times.

What Are the Benefits of Stretching?

When done properly, stretching can do more than just increase flexibility. Benefits of stretching include:

  • enhanced physical fitness
  • enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
  • increased mental and physical relaxation
  • enhanced development of body awareness
  • reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
  • reduced muscular soreness
  • reduced muscular tension
  • increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues.
  • reduced severity of painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in females

Unfortunately, even those who stretch do not always stretch properly and hence do not reap some or all of these benefits. Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are:

  • improper warm-up
  • inadequate rest between workouts
  • overstretching
  • performing the wrong exercises
  • performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence

What are the most common types of stretches?

With so many different types of stretching techniques for improving flexibility.

There tends to be confusion on the difference between these techniques and how are they executed.

  • Static Stretching
  • Dynamic Stretching
  • Ballistic Stretching
  • Active Isolated Stretching

 

Above are the most common types of stretching and we will see about them in detail below.

 

How to Perform Static Stretch?

Static stretching is a method of stretching a muscle beyond its normal limits. Then holding the stretch for anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes.

It’s often recommended as a way to stretch before vigorous exercise.

Static Stretching

There are two types of static stretches:

  • Active: Added force is applied by the individual for greater intensity
  • Passive: Added force is applied by an external force (e.g., partner or assistive device) to increase intensity

How to Perform Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching requires the 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.

An example of dynamic stretching would be a sprinter doing long, exaggerated strides to prepare for a race.

Slow long jog
Slow long jog

How to perform ballistic Stretching?

This type of stretching is typically used for athletic drills.

Ballistic stretching utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group.  These bouncing movements usually trigger the stretch reflex and may cause increased risk for injury.

They can be safely performed if done from low-velocity to high-velocity and preceded by static stretching.

How to perform Active Isolated Stretching?

This stretch technique is held for only two seconds at a time.

This Stretch  is performed repeatedly for several repetitions, each time exceeding the previous point of resistance by a few degrees.

Much like a strength-training regimen, Active Isolated Stretching(AIS) is performed for several sets with a specific number of repetitions.

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