How many of you pay attention to stretching? Here’s a detailed analysis of why you should stretch, when you should be doing it, and what types of stretching exercises exist.
Everyone knows about the benefits of stretching, but at the same time in the gym during the day with fire you will not find an athlete who stretches after a warm-up. Most strength training enthusiasts believe that colleagues in the shop should not see the “macho” behind the stretching, and therefore in all possible ways evade this type of exercise. By doing so, they are making a big mistake, because stretching is a fundamental way to improve the health and functional fitness of an athlete. Stretching well will simplify your daily life and prevent injury during training sessions. Stretching should be done after warm-up and before strength training. This will prepare the muscles for the upcoming stress and reduce the risk of injury. By incorporating the stretching complex into your training program, you will achieve:
- Reducing post-workout soreness
- Improving blood circulation
- Increased range of motion
- Posture improvements
- Reducing muscle tension
- Reducing muscle soreness
- Develop the ability to relax
- Find time for psychological training, for example, for visualization
So now we know the benefits of stretching, and yes, we were determined to incorporate stretching into our workout routine, right? Then the first thing we need to do is figure out what types of stretching exercises we can do.
All stretching exercises can be divided into 7 types:
- Ballistic stretch
- Dynamic stretching
- Active stretching
- Passive stretching
- Static stretching
- Isometric stretch
- PNF stretching (proprioceptive enhancement of neuromuscular transmission)
Ballistic stretching is based on short bouncing movements that cause our torso, arms, and legs to move out of range. During this “warm-up” you stretch with a jerk technique, and the stretched muscles act as a tight string that tries to return your body to its normal position. (Take repetitive toe bends as an example.) This type of stretching is not considered very helpful and can lead to injury. Ballistic stretching prevents your muscles from relaxing and adapting to the stretched position, but instead forces them to tense, triggering the stretch reflex over and over again.
A few words about the stretch reflex. When a muscle is stretched, the neuromuscular spindle is also stretched. The neuromuscular spindle is a receptor that records the change in muscle length and the rate of this change and sends a signal to the spinal cord. The spinal cord processes this information and triggers the stretch reflex, also known as the myotatic reflex, which prevents the muscle from changing length and causes the stretched muscle to contract. And the faster the length of the muscle fiber changes, the more pronounced the response muscle contraction.
Dynamic stretching engages moving body parts and gradually increases depth of movement, speed of movement, or both. Don’t confuse dynamic and ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching consists of controlled swinging movements of the arms and legs that (gently!) Bring you to the limit of your normal range of motion. Ballistic stretching exploits bouncing jerking movements that force parts of the body to go out of range. There is no room for jerks and jerky movements in dynamic stretching. Slow, controlled swinging movements of the legs or arms, as well as torso twists, are good examples of dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is based on holding the stretching position. This means that you stretch as much as possible and then hold the stretch position. The passive stretching technique assumes that you are relaxed and not actively trying to influence the range of motion; instead, the driving impulse comes from the outside and is generated by a partner or mechanical device. Static stretching is divided into two types: static-active stretching and static-passive stretching. In what follows, we will refer to static stretching as passive stretching.
Active stretching is also called statically active stretching. In active stretching, you take the required position, and then hold it without assistance due to the tension of the agonist muscles. For example, let’s take a lying leg lift with fixation at the top point without the help of available means, when you keep your legs in an extended position only due to the muscles. The tension of the agonist muscles during active stretching helps to relax the muscles that we want to stretch (antagonists) according to the principle of reciprocal inhibition. Active stretching increases actual flexibility and strengthens muscle agonists. As a rule, it is quite difficult to hold the position necessary for active stretching for more than 10 seconds, and therefore stretching exercises rarely last more than 15 seconds.
By the way, many of the movements (stretching) found in various variations in yoga are examples of active stretching.
Passive stretching is also called relaxation stretching and static-passive stretching. In passive stretching, you take the required position and hold it with the help of another part of your body, or with the help of a partner or improvised means. For example, lifting your leg up and holding it at the top point with your hands.
The splits are another example of passive stretching, because in this case, the floor acts as a “handy tool” that helps you stay in the stretched position. Slow, relaxing stretches can help fight muscle contracture while recovering from injury. Of course, you should first consult with your doctor and make sure everything is in order, and then you can start stretching the damaged muscles. In addition, relaxing stretching is very good for “cooling off” after strength training, as it helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after exercise.
Isometric stretching is a type of static stretch (i.e. no movement) that uses resistance to the isometric contraction of the target muscle group, i.e. resistance to the tension of the muscle we want to stretch. Using isometric stretching is one of the fastest ways to develop static-passive plasticity; the method is much more effective than passive stretching or active stretching alone. In addition, isometric stretching develops the strength of the “tense” muscles (which helps to hone static-active flexibility) and somewhat reduces the degree of pain that many are used to associating with stretching exercises.
The simplest ways to create the resistance required for isometric stretching is to use the resistance with your hand, use a partner, or use any means, such as a wall or floor, as a point of resistance. An example of manual resistance is holding the arch of the foot to prevent flexion while the calf muscles try to straighten the foot and pull the toes.
An example of getting your partner’s help to create opposition would be to lift your leg up (and hold) while you try to get your leg back on the ground.
An example of using a wall to generate resistance is the well-known push-the-wall exercise to stretch the calf muscles. You are trying with all your might to move the wall from its place, although you know perfectly well that this is impossible.
Isometric stretching is not recommended for children and adolescents who continue to grow. As a rule, they are already so flexible that strong stretching provoked by isometric contraction is accompanied by an increased risk of damage to tendons and connective tissue structures. Before the isometric stretch, it is recommended to prepare the muscles to be stretched with dynamic strength exercises. A full isometric stretch complex imposes increased demands on the muscles being stretched and should not be performed more than once a day for each muscle group (ideally, no more than once every 36 hours).
Correct isometric stretch sequence:
- Take a position for passive stretching of the target group.
- Tighten the stretched muscle for 7-15 seconds (using an opposition that cannot be overcome, for example, a wall or a partner).
- Relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds.
PNF stretching (a technique for proprioceptive enhancement of neuromuscular transmission, or relaxation after tension) is today considered the fastest and most effective way to increase static-passive flexibility. In reality, it is not so much an independent type of stretching exercise as a combined technique that combines passive stretching and isometric stretching in order to achieve maximum static plasticity. Initially, PNF stretching was developed as a method of rehabilitation of patients after a stroke. PNF combines various post-isometric relaxing stretching techniques in which the muscle group is passively stretched, then the isometric contraction phase occurs in a stretched position with resistance, and in the final phase the muscle is again passively stretched with an already increased amplitude.
Typically, PNF stretching requires the participation of a partner who first creates resistance to isometric contraction, and then performs passive movement in the joint with an even greater range of motion. Such exercises can be performed without assistance, but it should be recognized that with the participation of a partner, they are more effective.
Most PNF stretching exercises involve isometric agonist contraction / relaxation, in which the muscles being stretched are sequentially contracted and then relaxed. Some PNF stretching techniques also involve contractions of the antagonist muscles, during which the antagonists of the stretched muscles contract. In any case, it should be noted that the muscles being stretched must rest (and relax) for at least 20 seconds before performing the next PNF stretch. Below we will discuss the most common techniques for this type of stretching.
The technique is also known as contraction-relaxation. After the initial passive stretch, the stretched muscle contracts isometrically for 7-15 seconds, after which it rests briefly for 2-3 seconds and is immediately subjected to passive stretching, which stretches the muscle more than during the initial passive stretch. The final passive stretch lasts 10-15 seconds. The muscle then rests for 20 seconds before doing the next PNF stretch.
Admission is also known as contraction-relaxation-contraction, and contraction-relaxation-contraction antagonist. It involves the use of two isometric contractions: first, the contraction of the agonist, then the antagonist. The first part is similar to the previously described grip-relaxation technique, when, after an initial passive stretching, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. The muscle then rests, while its antagonist instantly begins an isometric contraction, which is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles then rest for 20 seconds before moving on to the next PNF stretching technique.
This technique (a similar technique is also called grip-release-rebound) uses dynamic or ballistic stretching in combination with static and isometric stretching. A very risky technique that can only be successfully used by experienced athletes and dancers who have achieved an amazing degree of control over muscle stretch reflexes. It is similar to the grip-release technique, except that dynamic or ballistic stretching replaces the final passive stretching phase.
Note that there is no passive stretching phase in the capture-relaxation-contraction technique. It is replaced by contraction of the antagonist, which, through reciprocal inhibition, relaxes and further stretches the muscle group that was the target of the original passive stretch. Since there is no final stretch phase, this PNF technique is considered one of the safest to perform (less likely to rupture muscle tissue). Many people like to make this technique even more effective by including a passive stretch phase after the second isometric contraction, and while this can accelerate the development of flexibility, it also increases the risk of injury.
Even more risky is dynamic or ballistic stretching integrated into PNF stretching techniques such as grab-release-swing or grab-release-bounce. Unless you are a professional athlete or dancer, you should not even try to master these techniques (the likelihood of injury is too great). Even professionals cannot use these techniques without the guidance of a professional trainer or experienced mentor. These two techniques have the greatest potential for the rapid development of flexibility, but only if performed by people who have sufficient control over the stretch reflex in the muscles that are being stretched.
PNF stretching is not recommended for children and people whose skeletal system continues to grow (for the same reasons). Along with isometric stretching, PNF stretches help strengthen contracting muscles and are therefore well suited for increasing both active and passive flexibility. And, as with isometric stretching, PNF stretching requires tremendous tension, and therefore should be applied to each muscle group no more than once a day (ideally, no more than once over a 36-hour period).
The basic guidelines for PNF stretching are as follows: Perform your chosen stretches 3-5 times for each muscle group, with a 20 second rest between reps. And to reduce the length of your stretching sessions without compromising their effectiveness, we recommend that you do only one PNF stretching exercise for the target group per training session.
When done correctly, stretching will give you more than increased flexibility. Stretch benefits include:
- Improving overall fitness
- Increased ability to master and perform exercises requiring flexibility
- Improving mental and physical relaxation
- Improving understanding of the characteristics of your body
- Reducing the risk of injury to joints, muscles and tendons
- Reduced muscle soreness
- Reduction of muscle contractures
- Increasing the elasticity and plasticity of connective tissue structures by stimulating the production of chemical compounds that lubricate connective tissue.
- Reducing the intensity of menstrual pain in women
Unfortunately, even a person who stretches regularly does not always do it competently, and therefore often does not receive much of the benefits of good stretching. The most common mistakes when doing stretching are:
- improper warm-up
- insufficient rest between sets
- excessive stretching
- poor exercise choice
- doing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence
Warm up before training
A standard warm-up should start with rotations in the joints, starting from the tips of the toes and going up, or from the fingers and going down. This simplifies movement in the joints due to uniform lubrication of all articular surfaces with synovial fluid. This lubrication helps your joints cope with their functional duties more easily during the main workout. You should perform slow circular movements, both clockwise and counterclockwise, until the movements in the joint are completely smooth. You should work the following joints (in the suggested or reverse order):
- Fingers and metacarpophalangeal joints
- Torso and loin
- Hip area
By the end of the warm-up, you will warm up your muscles and they will become more elastic. Immediately after the general warm-up, you should do a slow, relaxing, static stretch. Start from the back, followed by the upper body and lower body, stretching the muscles in the following sequence:
- Sides (outer oblique)
- Forearms and wrists
- Groin area (adductors)
- Hips (quads and abductors)
- The back of the thigh
You will find static stretching exercises for all of these muscles in many stretching books. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time to stretch all of these target groups before each workout. But even if you are on a time constraint, be sure to find an opportunity to stretch the muscles that you plan to load during your training session.
Finish your workout wisely
Completing your workout wisely isn’t just about stretching. This is only part of the process. After you have completed your training session, the best way to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness (caused by lactic acid production during maximal or submaximal muscle tension) is to return to stretching exercises. As a result, the final part of the workout will be similar to the second half of your warm-up, only in reverse order.
The final part of the workout includes three phases:
- Relevant physical activity
- Dynamic stretching
- Static stretching
Ideally, you should start the final part of your workout with 10-20 minutes of relevant physical activity, the intensity of which will be slightly higher than during the warm-up. However, in real life you may not have 20 minutes to cool down at the end of a training session, however, you should devote at least 5 minutes to a specific activity. Relevant sporting activity should be followed immediately by stretching: first do light dynamic stretching until your heart rate drops to normal, then move on to static stretching. Relevant sports activity followed by stretching will relieve muscle spasms, reduce muscle tension, soreness, and fatigue, and you will feel much better.
Light, post-workout exercises, immediately following a maximum workout, are more effective in clearing lactic acid from the muscles and blood than completely passive rest. What’s more, if your muscles feel sore the next day, a gentle warm-up is a great way to relieve pulling muscle pain and tension, even if you don’t exercise right after your workout.
Quite often, there are sensations that indicate that you have reached the ultimate level of stretching. This is indicated by symptoms such as localized warmth in the stretched muscle, followed by a burning sensation (like a cramp) and sharp pain (“dagger” pain). Localized heat usually occurs at the point of maximum allowable muscle stretch. When you begin to feel it, you should take a “step back” and reduce the intensity of the stretch. If you ignore (or don’t feel) this warmth, you are approaching the point where there is a burning sensation in the stretched muscle. At this point, you should immediately stop the exercise! You may not feel pain yet, but the next day it will definitely come. If you are stretching to the point of acute pain, it is very likely that the stretch has already damaged muscle tissue.
Now you know everything about stretching. And there is no reason why you should avoid it!