A Flexible Athlete is a Better Athlete: Different Techniques for Stretching
Posted Nov 30 2008 12:15pm
How many of you have seen athletes hunched over holding a stretch or bouncing a stretch repeatedly to warm-up? The main focus of this article is to give you, the athlete, a general understanding of stretching. But also talk about a newly advanced technique which may be taking a front seat to our common stretches. There are three main forms of stretching that the majority of the athletic world uses today which include static, ballistic, and PNF stretching. What is PNF you say? PNF is also known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation.
Ballistic Stretching focuses around using a rapid, bouncing motion with a high force to increase muscle elasticity. However effective it can be for some people, ballistic stretching is not recommended for daily use and can actually increase the risk of muscle injury and soreness. Using the bouncing motion, it actually activates the spindle reflex, which is counterproductive for muscle elasticity, causing the muscle soreness (Frontera 1999). So the next time you see someone bouncing a standing hamstring stretch, throw them a hint with a better technique for muscle stretching!
The most common form we see today is the static stretching. This is your basic stretch by holding it for a short period of time (ex. Bending over touching your toes). It is an effective technique for improving flexibility and minimizes activation of the spindle reflex. This type of stretching activates the Golgi tendon reflex by holding it long enough usually decreasing muscle soreness and decreasing risk of injury (Frontera 1999). Static stretching needs to be held for at least six to ten seconds.
The last form of stretching is the PNF technique. The two most popular and beneficial styles are the CR (contract/relax) and the CRAC (contract/relax agonist/contract). Stretching the hamstrings using the CR method, one person lies supine (on their back) while their partner passively (no help) lifts their leg to a point where a stretch is felt. Hold the stretch for about 10 seconds, then contract the hamstring against their partner resisting movement of the leg for a couple seconds. Once the person relaxes his hamstring, the partner pushes the leg up further, increasing the ROM (range of motion) and holding once again. This process is repeated three times for each leg. The CRAC method is basically the same, however, the person being stretched lifts their own leg while the partner assists. The partner then holds the leg for 10 seconds at the end stretch point. The person then contracts the quad once again trying to increase ROM and then the partner assists and holds the stretch once again. Repeat three times on each leg. The main difference between CR and CRAC is that the CR method is a passive stretch and the CRAC method is an active-assistive stretch.
PNF stretching has become a popular new way of stretching, however usually requiring a partner and taking some practice to perform correctly. It incorporates some neurological and physiological principles like the autogenic and reflex inhibitions that alter spindle reflexes, which in turn helps increase flexibility and decrease muscle soreness (Frontera 1999). Give these new methods a try and see how it affects your flexibility.
Frontera, Walter R. “Exercise in Rehabilitation Medicine.” Human Kinetics;