Stretching seems to be a lost art these days. There are a lot of training experts out there with their opinions on how stretching should or shouldn’t be done. Stretching is the process of lengthening or extending the muscles in your body through specific movements. There are many types of stretching methods and numerous benefits to including stretching in your training program. But with so much contradictory information out there, most people don’t bother with stretching. Rather than going through the hassle of finding out what is right for them they skip it all together. Outlined below are the basics on stretching.
One of the main benefits of stretching is flexibility. Simply put, this is the muscles’ ability to lengthen. The more flexible you are, the longer a muscle can get. This can affect everyday tasks such as bending over to pick up something or lifting objects up, and the more flexible you are the easier these tasks are. With better flexibility your muscle coordination, the body’s ability to incorporate more than one muscle group to perform a task, improves. Going along with flexibility, stretching can also help increase your range of motion. By stretching regularly, your ligaments, tendons, and joints will stay lubricated which can help increase your range of motion as well. Your balance will improve and prevent less injuries from occurring. This is especially important the older you get.
Stretching also allows the body to have better circulation. Better circulation of blood flow means quicker healing from injuries. It can also relieve pain by increasing the blood flow and loosening tight muscles that may affect other parts of your body. Stretching can also be a great relaxation technique to combat a stressful day. Not only can it provide physical relief, but stretching can calm a person down mentally allowing them to reach a relaxed state. Last but not least, stretching can help improve your posture. Tight muscles can contribute to a poor posture, but by simply stretching keep areas such as chest shoulder, and lower back, it show significant improvement in one’s posture.
The two main types of stretching are dynamic and static stretching. Dynamic stretching is stretching with motion. This can be exercises such as walking lunges without weight, leg swings, or arm windmills. The other type of stretching is static stretching, or stretching without motion. These are your basic stretches that include, calf, quad, shoulder, low back, neck, ab, etc. stretches. These are the most commonly known types of stretching, but there are a few other forms of stretching that you may not know about that can help you reap the benefits of stretching.
Passive stretching, or relaxed stretching, is a form of static stretching where you are holding a position and supporting that position using another part of your body. For example, lying in your back and holding one leg up with your arms in order to stretch your hamstrings after a run. This is a very common form of stretching and is often used a s a “cool down” after a workout.
Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching which involves the resistance of muscle groups through tensing the stretched muscles. In this stretch you are applying force, either with another limb, partner, or an apparatus that you can then push against in order to stretch. Pushing your foot against a wall to stretch your calf is an example of an isometric stretch.
PNF stretching, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, was originally created and implemented in the rehab of stroke victims. PNF refers to any of several stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position, and then is passively stretched again through the resulting increased range of motion. This technique usually requires a partner to achieve the full effectiveness. The most common PNF stretching techniques are:
After assuming an initial passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds, after which the muscle is briefly relaxed for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch which stretches the muscle even further than the initial passive stretch. This final passive stretch is held for 10-15 seconds. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.
This involves performing two isometric contractions: first of the agonists, then, of the antagonists. The first part is similar to the hold-relax where, after assuming an initial passive stretch, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. Then the muscle is relaxed while its antagonist immediately performs an isometric contraction that is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.
Stretching is important to recovery and your well-being. We all know we should do it, but sometimes we fall into the trap of over thinking it. Use the basics outlined above and start incorporating more stretching into your recovery techniques.