When most people work out (myself included), they skip an extremely vital part of their workout- stretching. To most of us, it is simply an afterthought, but, like cardio or strength training, stretching is an important piece to our wellness puzzle. Flexibility training allows for greater freedom of movement, better posture, increased physical and mental relaxation, decreased muscle soreness and reduced injury ( American Council on Exercise ). With all these benefits, it’s hard to believe that it is so often forgotten.
Stretching can be done in many ways, different types of stretching work better for different individuals based on their age, fitness level, and the activity being performed. It is important to stretch correctly to reap all the benefits mentioned above. Always ask a fitness professional if you are unsure how to properly perform a stretch, that’s what they’re there for! The following are the categories of stretching in an order from most basic to advanced.
Static stretching before a race!
Static stretching before a race! This type of stretching is probably something you have already practiced. It is done in a slow, sustained manner and the final position is held for a few seconds. This slow, sustained motion allows the muscles to relax and stretch farther than they are used to. Static stretching involves little pain and has a very low risk for injury. It is recommended for individuals who are just beginning to develop their flexibility.
Passive stretching is very similar to static stretching where the stretch is held for a few moments at the end of the stretch. The only real difference is that passive stretching involves an external force, often another person. This allows for an even greater ranger of motion and is useful for people who are beginning to add stretching into their routine.
This type of stretching requires fast, bouncy movements that move the body beyond the normal range of motion. Remember the bouncy butterfly stretch? It is a good example of ballistic stretching. Another example would be repeatedly bouncing up and down to touch your toes. Ballistic stretching is quite controversial and is probably the least recommended among fitness professionals. This type of stretching should only be performed after an adequate warm-up and should be completed in as gentle a bouncing fashion as possible.
Controlled Ballistic Stretching
These stretches are much safte than its cousin, ballistic stretching. Controlled ballistic stretches are done in a slow, gentle and controlled manner to prevent injury or muscle tears and are very useful in developing flexibility. Most individuals can benefit from controlled ballistic stretching when the exercises are done properly.
Dynamic stretching involves both momentum and an active effort. No bouncy movements are involved and instead replaced with fluid and controlled motions. Arm circles are a common dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretching is extremely beneficial for athletes that take part in ballistic movements during competitions (gymnasts, hurdlers, figure skaters, dancers etc.) and is preferred to static stretching before events or performances because it doesn’t aids in strength and power. Dynamic stretching needs to be done correctly to avoid over-stretching and is not recommended for beginners.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
This type of stretching uses a “contract and relax” principle and requires the utilization of another person. The partner to the person being stretched will push slowly into the stretch while the stretch-ee pushes in the opposite direction. After about 5 seconds, the stretch-ee will relax and the stretcher will continue to push into the stretch, holding the deepest part of the stretch for 10-30 seconds. This type of stretching is studied to lengthen muscles as well as aid in strength of frequently stretched muscles. PNF does however require more pain than other forms of stretching as well as a willing partner. The extra amount of time needed to complete this type of stretching also needs to be considered when choosing the appropriate type for your routine.
Things you should always avoid when stretching:
Besides the standard pain that accompanies pushing your body past it’s normal range of motion, you should never experience pain while stretching. Stop immediately if any sort of pain occurs and check your form. See your doctor immediately if you suspect any kind of injury.
Although stretching should always come before our workout routine, we should not stretch before a proper warm-up. Never stretch cold muscles or you’ll be putting yourself at risk for injury.
Doing the same stretches over and over again is not only boring but not very beneficial. Over-stretching is actually just as bad as not stretching at all, so change up your stretching routine to target different muscle groups and prevent overuse.
Stretching is similar to exercise in many ways, requiring a warm up and producing endless benefits. During exercise it is important to breathe properly in order to deliver oxygen to muscles and stretching is certainly no different. Always practice proper breathing during stretching to prepare your muscles for the planned activity.