Stretching - why is it important?
Stretching is something we do often – think about what is the first thing you do when you wake up and are getting out of bed or when you’ve been sitting too long. But why is it important? And what are the different types of stretches? Stretches are either dynamic (meaning they involve motion) or static (meaning they involve no motion). They reduce the risk of injury, prevent muscle soreness after exercise, and improve athletic performance.
Wikipedia defines stretching as: Stretching is a form of physical exercise in which a specific muscle or tendon (or muscle group) is deliberately flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle's felt elasticy and achieve comfortable muscle tone. The result is a feeling of increased muscle control, flexibility, and range of motion. Stretching is also used therapeutically to alleviate cramps.
There are a few different methods of stretches but we can break them down into ballistic, dynamic, PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) also called partner stretching, Isometric (Contract Relax) stretching, and Static (Active and Passive) stretching. Some are more effective than others at different points in your exercise routine and some are just down right dangerous.
Lehigh.edu gives a great breakdown of some of these stretches and their benefits or lack thereof: Since every muscle is different some stretches help some parts of the body, and some are useless. Ballistic stretching involves the body bobbing up and down forcing a tight stretch out of a muscle. This is the least effective way of stretching and the most dangerous. It is very easy to pull a muscle by ballistic stretching. The only positive affect that ballistic stretching has on the muscle is activating the stretch reflex, causing the stretched muscle to contract rapidly so the athlete can bob up with remarkable speed. Ballistic stretching is mainly done in high school sports. The second type of stretching is Passive Stretching. Passive stretching involves a partner applying additional pressure to increase the intensity of the stretch. The third form of stretching is Contract Relax Stretching. Contract Relax Stretching is rather complex and takes practice in order to make the stretch useful. The muscle that is going to be stretched is actively contracted and then stretched immediately after it relaxes. This stretch utilizes the inverse stretch flex. This form of stretching is useful for all sports because of its effectiveness to all muscles. The fourth and final type of stretch is called the Static Stretch. The static stretch is held for 30 to 60 seconds, allowing a slow build up of tension in the muscle. Since this stretch is done so slowly, the stretch reflex is not activated.
According to a new study at Harvard Medical, recent expert opinion has moved away from static stretching before activity and toward a gradual and active warm-up period before exercise. According to the study “Stretching a healthy muscle before exercise does not prevent injury or soreness.”
What the new recommendation for pre-exercise stretching is to use a Dynamic stretch technique because it gently warms muscles while also stretching them.
Which involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion. In dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or "jerky" movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be slow, controlled leg swings, arm swings, or torso twists.
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