Do You Stretch Properly?
Part of my role as a sports massage therapist is to provide advice on stretching techniques in order to alleviate muscle tightness and tension and assist in injury rehabilitation.
In order to provide the best advice on stretching I began to study more about this subject and began to realise that I don’t stretch properly myself. Generally I will do some post exercise stretches specific to the activity I had been doing. However it was rare that I did pre exercise stretches and those stretches I did were wrong.
Today I am going to talk about the basics of stretching and provide you with some knowledge and ideas that you can include in your training programme.
What Are The Benefits of Stretching?
In order to realise the importance of stretching we need to understand the benefits that can be achieved.
1. Improved Range of Motion
By increasing our range of movement we are increasing the distance our limbs can move before damage occurs to the muscles and tendons.
2. Increased Power
By increasing our muscle length we are increasing the distance over which they are able to contract. This can increase muscle power, athletic ability, muscle control and balance.
3. Reduced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
The day after a hard run or gym session it is common for the muscles to be tight, sore and stiff. This is caused by minute tears within the muscle fibres, blood pooling and the accumulation of waste products such as lactic acid. Stretching during the cool down process can help alleviate this soreness by lengthening the muscle fibres, increasing blood circulation and removing waste products.
4. Reduced Fatigue
For every muscle in the body there is an opposite or opposing muscle (antagonist). If the opposing muscles are more flexible then the working muscles do not have to exert as much force against them. Therefore each movement of the working muscles actually take less effort.
Other benefits of stretching include better posture, body awareness and coordination, increased energy and better relaxation and stress relief.
Types of Stretching
1. Static Stretching
Static stretching is where you place your body in a position where the muscle to be stretched is under tension. To start with muscle to be stretched and the opposing muscle and relaxed. Then slowly the body is moved to increase the tension on the muscle being stretched. This position should then be held for a minimum of 20 seconds.
2. Passive Stretching
This is very similar to static stretching however another person or apparatus is used to provide a further stretch. Due to the extra force applied to the muscle this form of stretch is slightly more hazardous than static stretching.
3. Active Stretching
This form of stretching does not use any aid or assistance from an external force. It uses only the strength of the opposing muscles to generate a stretch with the target muscles. An example of this is where you raise one leg straight out in front as high as possible and then maintain that position without any assistance. The position should only be held for 10 to 15 seconds.
4. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
This is an advanced form of stretching that requires both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. The muscle is positioned so that the muscle is under tension. The individual then contracts the stretched muscle for 5 to 6 seconds while a partner or object applies sufficient resistance to inhibit movement. The muscle is then relaxed and a controlled stretch is applied for about 30 seconds. After a recovery of about 30 seconds this can be repeated 2 to 4 times.
5. Isometric Stretching
This is a form of stretching similar to PNF but the contractions are held for longer periods of time. An example of an isometric stretch is where the individual stands upright and leans forward against a wall and places one foot as far from the wall as is comfortable ensuring the heel remains flat on the ground. Whilst in this position contract the calf muscle as if trying to push the wall down for 10 to 15 seconds. Then relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds before repeating the process 2 to 5 times.
6. Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching are stretches that are performed with movement. This is where a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion is used to move a particular body part to the limit of its range of movement. At no point during this form of stretching should the body part be forced past the joint’s normal range of motion.
Rules for Safe Stretching
1. Warm Up Prior to Stretching
A correct warm up should consist of a light physical activity for about 10 minutes and result in a light sweat.
2. Stretch Before and After Exercise
Stretching before exercise has a totally different purpose to stretching after exercise.
3. Stretch Only to the Point of Tension
When muscles are stretched to the point of pain the body employs a stretch reflex to protect the muscles and tendons and prevents the muscles from being stretched.
4. Stretch All Major Muscles and Their Opposing Muscle Groups
Just because a particular sport may place a lot of emphasis on the legs does not mean that you should neglect the muscles of the upper body in the stretching routine.
5. Stretch Gently and Slowly
This will help the muscles relax and thereby prevent muscle tears or strains that can be caused by rapid jerky movements.
6. Breathe Slowly and Easily While Stretching
This will help to relax the muscles, promote blood flow and increase the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
So When Do We need To Stretch?
Most people know there is a need to stretch after exercise but there are other times when we can stretch.
1. Warming up – dynamic stretching is the most effective. The purpose of stretching before exercise is to help prevent injury. The muscles and tendons are lengthened which increases our range of movement.
2. Cooling down – static, passive or PNF stretching is best. The purpose of post exercise stretching is to aid the repair and recovery of muscles and tendons.
3. To improve range of motion – PNF and active isolated stretching.
4. For rehabilitation – a combination of PNF, isometric ad active stretching will provide the best results.