Flexibility is defined as the range of motion available in a joint. Many structures influence flexibility including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. Research shows that increasing your flexibility by stretching can decrease injuries, minimize and alleviate muscle soreness, and improve athletic performance.
Common Stretching Techniques
- Static stretching. This technique is probably what you think of when you think of stretching. The goal is to isolate and slowly stretch a specific muscle until you feel mild (comfortable) tension. Hold the stretch position for 15 to 30 seconds. This is considered the safest way to stretch as it allows muscles and connective tissues an opportunity to elongate, adjust, and adapt.
- Dynamic stretching. This is a more active type of stretching that uses the desired muscle(s) through their normal range of motion with a brief hold of 2-3 seconds. There are no bounces or “jerky” movements. Examples of dynamic stretching would be controlled leg, arm, or torso swings.
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF. This technique combines passive stretching and isometric contractions to improve flexibility. PNF techniques usually require help from another person, hopefully one that has been trained in this approach! Another name for this technique is “contract – relax.”
Ballistic stretching (bouncing, jerking) uses the momentum of a moving body or limb to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This type of stretching tends to be done in an uncontrolled manner and often results in injury. At the very least ballistic stretching prompts the muscle(s) to tighten up instead of relax. This type of stretching is usually not recommended.
Guidelines for Safe and Effective Stretching
- A light warm-up exercise prior to stretching is recommended. Go for a brisk walk, ride a bike, or do light aerobics. Exercise increases blood flow to muscles which increases their temperature, and allows tissues to be stretched more readily.
- Stretching can be general in nature or very specific to one’s sport or activity.
- Static stretching as described above is suitable for most people. Hold a slow and sustained stretch for approximately 15 to 30 seconds. Avoid pain and stay within a comfortable tolerance.
- Avoid ballistic stretching (bouncing, jerking movements) to help minimize injury.
- Stretch each muscle group 3 to 5 times for maximal benefit. Always try to stretch muscles on both sides of the joint. Example: if you stretch your quadriceps, then you should also stretch your hamstrings.
- Don’t hold your breath! Relaxed breathing allows the muscles to release more easily.
- Stretch during your sports season and also during the off season to help maintain flexibility.
- Stretching can be done as a warm up activity and also during the cool down period following exercise.
If you have any questions or concerns about your stretching routine, please contact us! Our therapists would be happy to help you refine your stretching technique for maximum benefit.