How many times has it happened? An elite runner pulls up lame in a 150-meter dash for cash. A NFL superstar limps to the sideline with a painful groin pull. Or the average Joe has to walk the last half-mile of his daily 4-mile jaunt with an annoying twinge in his hamstring.
Granted, comparing an elite athlete, who has access to the most sophisticated sports medicine services in the world, to a recreational jogger is like comparing filet mignon to cube steak. But, they both have one thing in common. Maintaining proper flexibility in their bodies can help prevent injury!
Stretching you say? Isn’t that reserved for gymnast and people like Plastic Man.
As a matter of fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Furthermore, you don’t need fancy equipment or a trainer to reap the benefits of stretching. Stretching can benefit everyone from the professional athlete to the elderly adult.
I recently read an article about an 85-year-old woman who lives alone and is independent with all her daily activities. The author asked how she has kept so active and the woman stated, ” I stretch my body for 20 minutes twice a day.”
Stretching Benefits Beyond Flexibility
Everyone may not get exactly the same results, but by incorporating stretching into your program you may acquire more than just flexibility.
Each muscle has an optimum length at which it can perform at it’s best. If a muscle is too tight or stretched, not at it’s optimal length, than it’s at a disadvantage. Therefore someone may be able to get the most out of a training program by performing proper stretching techniques daily.
So, you ask, how do I go about stretching properly. First off, it would be a good idea to get to know the different basic types of stretching which are as follows: Static, Active, Ballistic and Massage.
1. Static Stretching
Static stretching is what one typical thinks of as traditional stretching. The body part being stretched is moved into a certain position and held. This is one way to achieve more flexibility.
Technique is critical, the stretch should be held at least 20-30 seconds, the body part should not be “bounced”, and the stretch should be preformed slow and deliberately.
No pain should be elicited during the stretch, although some discomfort is normal. It is also ideal to perform these stretches when the body is warm, such as after a hot shower or a few calisthenics.
2. Active Stretching
Active stretching takes static stretching to the next level, so to speak.
There are basically three types of active stretching-contract/relax, contract/relax/contract, and antagonist contraction.
Contract/relax technique involves actively contracting the muscle for 15-20 seconds and then, as you relax, pulling the body part further into the stretch. You should perform this stretch 3-4 repetitions and each time go slightly further. Again, there should be no pain but only minimal discomfort with the stretch.
Contact/relax/contract uses the same methods above, but instead of pulling the body part further into the stretch the antagonist muscle, the muscle that performs the opposite function of the one you are trying to stretch, is used to move the body part.
Lastly, the antagonist contraction involves using the muscle on the opposite side of the joint to pull the body into the stretch without an agonist contraction or relax phase. The idea behind these stretches is to fool the tension receptors in the muscle fibers so a more efficient stretch can be preformed. These are fairly simple concepts, but I recommend a few training sessions with a professional before adding them to your routine.
3. Ballistic Stretching
Ballistic stretching is when the muscle is quickly and forcefully stretched.
This prepares the muscle for an explosive contraction. It is the only one of the stretches mentioned here that is more of an exercise than a stretch. It’s mainly used in the performance of plyometric exercises incorporated in an athlete’s routine to optimize strength and power.
Ballistic Training SHOULD NEVER BE USED AS PART OF ONE’S DAILY FLEXIBILITY PROGRAM. If you’re interested in this technique to enhance athletic performance the advice of a professional is highly recommended.
Massage is also a type of stretching. Basic muscular massage stretches the muscle fibers as it is being preformed. In fact many massage therapists will put a muscle on a slight static stretch while performing massage techniques. My massage therapist even incorporates active stretching into her services!
5. Pilates and Yoga
Of course many other programs such as Pilate’s and yoga use stretching in the performance of their respective techniques. I am not as familiar with them and will not comment on them here. This article was written primarily to get the reader familiarized with the different types of stretching, the benefits of stretching, and hopefully motivated to get started into a daily routine.
There are many great books and resources available on stretching. I recommend surfing the web. Try the different techniques I’ve mentioned above or anything else you have seen that you think may improve your performance. Just make sure it’s safe and it’s helping.