“With my other trainers, we never stretched at all.”
“I come to you just for the stretching.”
“I can touch my toes now. I haven’t been able to do that in years.”
“Is it stretch time yet?”
These are some of the common phrases that have blessed my ears throughout the years. Coming up on the sports scene, stretching was always common protocol. I myself only half-heartedly stretched until puberty hit and my muscles developed more. It was the first time I experienced soreness, cramping, spasms and other symptoms of body fatigue; stretching alleviated much of this.
Stretching keeps the muscles strong, flexible, and healthy. Furthermore, flexibility allows for optimal range of motion in the joints. Lack of stretching causes the muscles to tighten and shorten. When tight muscles are called on for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way, which puts strain on the joints. Tight joints are the catalyst for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Stretching every once in awhile is not enough. Stretching must be performed on a regular basis to keep the muscles long, healthy, and strong.
I have come across much opposition when it comes to stretching. There is a half-truth in many fitness cultures that stretching has a negative effect on strength. So some power lifters and other weightlifting enthusiasts will completely omit flexibility training from their routine. According to USA Weightlifting, the truth is that “static stretching can reduce the strength and power of muscular contraction for at least several minutes following such exercise. “ So while it is true that static stretching in particular can reduce strength, this limitation is only applicable for several minutes after flexibility training has been performed. However, as stated above, flexibility training increases joint mobility, which is crucial for proper technique in lifts such as squats, cleans, snatches etc. Thus, increasing range of motion in both the muscles and joints is recommended. Here are the five recommendations of stretching in relation to strength development by USA Weightlifting:
1) Only muscles that have been warmed up through a general or specific warm-up be stretched.
2) Gradual increases in range of motion are achieved during stretching and no sudden moves into full range of motion are attempted.
3) Only the current range of motion is sought during warming up and no effort is made to improve the current range of motion.
4) Flexibility exercises cease as the specific warm-up progresses, and they are not resumed until skill building, power and strength training have been completed.
5) Flexibility training to increase an athlete’s range of motion should be performed immediately after strength training has been completed, while the muscles are still warm.
These recommendations are not gospel, just the advice of one organization. If your stretching does not coincide with weightlifting then do not worry about it! Yoga, speed training, Pilates, and other forms of fitness may all have very different approaches to stretching and flexibility training. But the different types of stretching are pretty universal:
Static stretching involves slowly moving into a position, and then holding that position for a set time limit (usually 10 – 30 seconds).
Dynamic stretching involves moving the body through a range of motion that is assisted by momentum. For instance, a walking lunge in which you target stretching of the hip flexors is considered a dynamic stretch.
Passive and Active
Passive stretching is when a person’s body is moved into position with the assistance of a partner or device.
Active stretching is when a person completes the entire stretch without assistance from another person or thing. Active stretching can be static or dynamic.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
AIS argues that if a strenuous stretch is held for more than a few seconds, a stretch reflex begins to resist the stretch that activated it. Therefore, a stretch is only performed for two seconds, and then returned to the pre-stretch position for a second. Usually ten repetitions or so of this is performed.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF is a method in which the muscle is moved into the maximum range of motion, and then contract it for several seconds against an opposing force.
Despite all the different forms of stretching, and the orders, guidelines, recommendations etc. you’re supposed to perform them in, the truth is that you should stretch just because it feels good. Stretch because it alleviates stress. Stretch because it relaxes you. Your body knows what to be stretched and for how long. True story: A buddy of mine was dealing with hip problems for years. He was unable to exercise, and spent every day in pain. He had MRI’s performed, X-rays, and other medical assessments but no one could figure out what was wrong (although several of them still recommended surgery). One day he was sitting on the floor, on the brink of making his mind up to have surgery, and something told him to position his body in a specific way and stretch. He did so, and kept relaxing into the stretch. Every time he exhaled he sank deeper into the stretch. Eventually he felt a pop in the joint of his hip, and instant relief flooded in. All the pain, soreness, and stiffness melted smoothly ebbed away. He has been fine ever since then. All he did was breathe and stretch.