Stretching is often overlooked when designing an exercise session but should be a fundamental part of your exercise routine. But stretching incorrectly either results in an ineffective stretch or the potential for injury. So here are a number of suggestions to consider when stretching.
- FLEXIBILITY AND STRETCHING
Flexibility describes the range of motion for a given joint. This is influenced by muscles and connective tissue like tendons (connecting muscle to bone) and ligaments (connecting bone to bone). Stretching is a form of exercise that will either maintain or increase flexibility.
- HOW FLEXIBLE SHOULD YOU BE?
Flexibility requirements are relative to the sport you are playing or the movement involved in your daily routine. But flexibility in moderation is key here. A lack of flexibility is linked to injuries, chronic (long term) pain and poor posture. Conversely too much flexibility can lead to joint instability and ultimately dislocation.
- ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STRETCH?
Stretches mainly come in three forms, static, dynamic and ballistic. We’ll cover each of them in more detail below but generally the static stretching is performed at the end of an exercise session whereas dynamic and ballistic are best performed as part of your warm up. For the keen exercisers out there you might have heard of PNF stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation but this is an advanced form of static stretching that is best overseen by a professional).
- STATIC STRETCHING
Static stretching, as the name implies, involves slowly stretching a muscle to near it’s end position and holding for a short period of time, normally 10-30 seconds (so little movement involved). This shouldn’t be painful.
Static stretching can be further categorised whereby passive stretching: using another object/person to facilitate your stretch and active stretching: using your other muscles to elicit a stretch.
Most of the recent research suggests that static stretching right before playing a sport of performing exercise can impair performance. It’s not that static stretching is bad, in fact it can be the safest and most effective form but it simply shouldn’t be done as part of a warm up. So static stretching is best performed after finishing exercise or as the main part of exercise after warming up (yoga).
- DYNAMIC MOVEMENT/STRETCHING
Dynamic stretching involves gently encouraging muscles to comfortably go to their end of range using momentum. So swinging your legs back and forth for example is a great way to warm up and stretch your quadriceps, hip flexors and hamstrings.
- BALLISTIC STRETCHING
Ballistic stretching follows similar principles to dynamic stretching but the principle here is to encourage the muscles to go beyond their natural comfortable range. This is great for activities that require ballistic movement such as kicking a football or performing martial arts but has a much higher potential for injury so is best left to the experienced to perform.
- STRETCH APPROPRIATE TO THE ACTIVITY
As a simple guide and one that I use with clients try and stretch dynamically using movements similar to the activity you are about to do. So if you are doing heavy chest press then perform these movements initially with no weight, introducing more weight (resistance) with each set until you reach your training weight.
Most importantly everyone is different and so are their flexibility and stretching needs so don’t compare yourself to anyone else. If you have injuries or medical conditions then it would be wise to seek help from a fitness professional.
Have fun and loosen up.