Stretching 101: How, When & Why to Stretch.

Versione Italiana: https://spark.adobe.com/page/zkhUgSNDBQujg/

What is Stretching?

Stretching is a type of physical exercise that aims to elongate the muscle that is being stretched (and its tendon too, which is the tissue that connects the muscle to the bone).

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Stretching exercises can be implemented in 2 ways (or in a combination) of these:

1) Passive Stretching

2) Active Stretching

Let’s see together what these terms mean!

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1) Passive Stretching

“Passive Stretching”is when you stretch a muscle using external help, such as your own body weight, a tool or another person.

“Passive Stretching” requires less work from you, but could also be less safe as you do not have complete control over the external force used to stretch your muscle.

2) Active Stretching

In the “Active Stretching” you stretch a muscle through the active contraction of its antagonist (= opposite) muscle.

“Active Stretching” requires more effort, as it relies on the activation of your muscles to work. On the other hand, though, it is considered less risky because you personally control the strength applied to the stretch.

That said, using either one of these two modalities or a combination of them, you can have multiple stretching techniques, which can be performed according to the goal and the time you implement them.

Different stretching techniques can, indeed, be used to get you ready for your workout, to cool-down post-exercise, to enhance athletic performance, to prevent injuries or for corrective and rehabilitative purposes.

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Multiple Stretching Techniques

Static Stretching

The “Static Stretching” is probably the most common stretching technique.

It consists in placing the target muscle in a lengthened position and hold it for about 30-60 seconds.

The muscle should be stretched to the point you can feel it being elongated, but it should NOT be painful.

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Dynamic Stretching

As oppose to the “Static Stretching”, the “Dynamic Stretching” involves movement.

For this reason, “Dynamic Stretching” also requires more focus and coordination.

In fact, it consists in moving repeatedly (about 10 times) through the joint’s range of motion (ROM).

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The movements in the “Dynamic Stretching” are smooth and controlled, within range of motion (ROM), much different from the “Ballistic Stretching”, which I will explain in the next paragraph.

Ballistic Stretching

This stretching technique consists in rapid and bouncing movements, that uses also momentum to stretch the muscles surrounding a joint beyond its physiological ROM.

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The “Ballistic Stretching” is NOT to be confused with the “Dynamic Stretching”, which as I’ve described before is much slower, smooth and controlled.

The “Ballistic Stretching” can be more risky to perform, as its forceful and sudden movements can cause injuries to the soft tissues involved in the stretch.

Furthermore, it could actually tighten the muscles as it can trigger a reflex mechanism that keeps the muscle from lengthening (this is called “myotatic stretch reflex“).

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Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

The Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced and effective stretching technique.

It consists in 4 main consecutive phases:

1. Passively stretching the targeted muscle for about 15 seconds;

2. Isometrically contracting the said muscle for 10-15 seconds

3. Pausing 3 seconds;

4. Passively stretching farther for 30 seconds.

This process can be repeated several times to help you elongate your muscles.

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Contract-Relax-Antagonist-Contract (CRAC)

Similar to the PNF, the so called CRAC stretching technique, differs from PNF only for the latter phase, where during the second passive stretching of the target muscles, the subject performs a concurrent active contraction of the antagonist muscle.

In other words, if you’re trying to stretch the Hamtrings, during the last phase of the C.R.A.C. stretching, you would contract the Quadriceps to deepen the Hamstrings stretch.

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Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)

“Active Isolated Stretching” is a stretching technique which consist in moving quickly and smoothly to stretch a muscle for 2 seconds, while contracting the antagonist at the same time.

Also, you should exhale during the brief stretching phase, and inhale as you return from the stretch.

This Stretching process should be performed about 10 times.

This technique allows you to prevent the so called “myotatic stretch reflex” from kicking in after 2 seconds of stretching; as I anticipated above, this reflex is a mechanism of self-defense of our body, which protects the muscle from overstretching too much too suddenly by contracting it, so that it will not elongate any further.

In addition, the active contraction of a muscle causes what is known as “reciprocal inhibition” of it antagonist: this means that when a muscle contracts, its opposite/antagonist muscle muscle gets shut off, allowing for a deeper stretch.

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When should you Stretch?

The key concept in stretching is that cold muscles are more prone to tear, so you want to perform stretching on warm muscles.

That is why it is better to implement a more Dynamic Stretching PRE-workout and any form of Static Stretching POST-Workout.

So, before you start working out, you should start with a few minutes of dynamic movement to warm up the muscles, ending your warm-up with plyometrics (bounce style) exercises to get your body ready to physical activity.

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Right after your workout, spend another few minutes performing some static stretching on the muscles that you have just finished training, to help restore a more ideal length of your muscle fibers.

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It is also important to practice some stretching with regularity, to actually benefit from it.

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Check out this mat to do stretching from the comfort of your home!

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Keep reading to find out why stretching can be beneficial!

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Why is it so important to Stretch?

(A.K.A. What are the benefits of stretching?)

Now that you know the multiple ways to stretch, let’s find out why is stretching so important and what are its hidden benefits!

1. Stretching increases Flexibility

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Performing stretches everyday can increase your flexibility, which in turn will make it easier for you to perform daily activities.

Furthermore, it can help you fight the reduction in mobility typical of aging.

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2. Stretching increases Range of Motion

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Regular stretching can also help increase your Range of Motion.

It seems that the PNF stretching technique leads to greater gains in the short term, but static and dynamic can be effective in this sense too.

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3. Stretching improves Physical Performance

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As opposed to common beliefs, it seems that acute stretching does NOT improve athletic performance.

Pre-workout static stretching can actually reduce performance, most probably because of the muscle tears caused when stretching a muscle that has nor been previously warmed-up.

That is why it is advisable to implement a dynamic warm-up, which prepares the body to exercise, thus improving its physical performance.

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4. Stretching reduces Risk of Injury

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As far as injury risk  prevention is concerned, as anticipated before, doing static stretching immediately prior working out can decrease the physical performance, thus increasing the risk of injury.

In fact, it actually appears that stretching can be beneficial in order to reduce the risk of injury when performed with regularity.

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5. Stretching improves Blood Circulation

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Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles, bringing more nutrients to your muscles and cleansing away the waste substances produced during exercise.

In turn, this can shorten both muscle soreness and recovery time.

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6. Stretching helps improving Posture

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Stretching can help you release tight muscles, thus making it easier for you to reach a proper body alignment.

When combined with strengthening exercises, it can also help you improve your posture.

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7. Stretching reduces Pain

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Stretching can help you relieve pain related to muscle tension, such as “tension headache“, or pain typical of an excessively contracted muscle, in case of “trigger points“. 

Stretching can also help reduce exercise-related muscle soreness (a.k.a. DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), as it helps driving more nutrients to the exercised muscle which help in the recovery, by increasing the blood flow there.

In addition, post-exercise stretching can help you restore muscle fibers to an optimal length for a better recovery.

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8. Stretching reduces Stress

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High stress levels, even if unconscious, can tense up your muscles as a physiological response of your body.

Stretching can relive some of that accumulated tension, thus helping you reduce the stress your body has been experiencing.

Furthermore, when performed mindfully, stretching can also ease your mind.

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Stretching – Summary

To sum up all the stretching techniques I’ve talked about in this article, I’ve decided to create this table below for you:

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I hope this article helps you!

Any questions? Comment below!

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Keep Active, Have Fun & Stay Healthy!

Elisabetta Brigo

Physiotherapist

The Physio Formula
Categories Blog, Posture / Postura, StretchingTags , , , ,

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