- Exercise & Fitness
Understand Stretching And How It Can Benefit You.
What's The Point?
Most people know that stretching is important before exercising, however very little know why this is. Stretching is used in almost every sport, from archery to football, even sky-diving! Within this blog, I shall develop your understanding of stretching and how it helps.
To begin, why do we do it? What's the point? Here are five main reasons why stretching will be benefit you;
- To increase muscle length.
- To reduce the risk of injury.
- To enhance potential healing for injured tissues.
- To enhance performance.
- To reduce pain linked to joint and muscle stiffness.
By stretching you will increase the length of that muscle you are stretching, this will be it will not be as tight, and that it is less likely to tear the muscles fibres when exercising, therefore risking the risk of injury. It will take anyway tension and potentially inflammation around the stretched area.
Which stretch type is the most well known?
Which type of stretching are you most familar with?
Types Of Stretching
Within the world of stretching there are three commonly used techniques which harbour the greatest benefits. There are as follow;
- Static Stretching - This is the most common form of stretching, it consists of simply holding a muscle or muscle group in constant stretch for a set period of time, some well used examples of this include; Hamstring stretch, overhead triceps stretch and calve stretch. Commonly used before sporting events, as it is quick and will give extra flexibility to the muscle almost immediately. It will increase the range of movement for that muscle. This style of stretching should be held for 15 to 30 seconds at a time. For short term changes, so before a sporting event / match, there is no benefit in holding a static stretch for longer then 15 seconds. It is also praised that there is no benefit to any sets of static stretching above 4-5. So do not bother exceeding the 4-5 set marker for static stretching.
- Ballistic or Dynamic Stretching - This set of stretching is similar to the static stretch, however with this method you bounce yourself into the stretch more, so after finding your limit you try to bounce into move of a stretch, even only for a split second but you are still stretching the muscle to a greater extent than the static stretch. A common example of this is when athletes will bend over and bounce toward the floor to stretch their calve muscles out.
- PNF Stretching - The 'PNF' stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation... Now you see why it is referred to as PNF. Anyway... PNF stretching involves combining isometric contractions and static stretches. An isometric contraction is where you fully tense one of your muscles. Just squeeze your fist together now and you will feel a series of muscle contract up your arm, this is an isometric contraction. Simply re-phrased as, 'tensing without moving.' The second part has already been covered under static stretches. The idea is stretch a muscle and then try and contract that muscle as hard as you can. An example of this which you can try out now is to, stand up, place your feet two shoulder widths apart, and try to pull both feet toward each other. You will feel a stretch contraction on your inner thigh. This is PNF stretching.
An Example Of A Stretching Routine
So What Should You Do?
Well experts say that a regular stretching routine as part of overall training will help prevent injuries. This is true but in reality stretching can get boring and tedious, especially you are pushed for time. The types of stretching that you should be doing will vary depending on your personal goal. If you are not active and do not exercise that much, then it may be worth doing a static stretches whenever you remember to try and relieve tension and reduce joint inflammation. On the other hand, if you are a gymnast, where flexibility is obviously very integral to the performance output then you will need to develop a stretching plan which consists of all types mentioned here.
As a general outline, static stretching will give you short term muscle flexibility, mainly used for bodybuilders, football players, and field sports. Dynamic or ballistic stretching will gradually give you permanent flexibility, this would be vital for a gymnast or a martial arts practitioner like myself. PNF stretching is widely agreed to give you better permanent flexibility then both of the types already mentioned. Every single gymnast will have this in their routine. You will find that sports which require strength, the practitioners will not be that flexible, as being flexibility has been proven to decrease strength. On the other side of the scale, being strong will decrease flexibility, a prime example of this is when a bodybuilder can not put his arms straight down by his sides without them bending. It is important to find a combination of both strength and flexibility. However, it is largely dependant on personal ambition and goals.
Other Elements To Consider
There are many variable elements which will determine how flexible and how useful stretching will be. Here are a couple of examples of these;
- Time of Day - The time of day can greatly affect your flexibility. In the morning when you just get out of bed, you will find that you are stiffer in comparison to later on in the day. This is because you have been laying asleep for several hours without any movement, therefore your muscles have contracted ever so slightly. This reflects in that stiffness you may feel in the morning. On the contrary to this, just before you go to bed you will be more subtle and will flexibility will be better compared with the morning. It is agreed that the most benefit time to stretch for long term changes to your muscles, is to stretch in the evening, when you are naturally most flexible. So if your aim is to be able to do the splits, perform your stretching routine before you go to bed, as this is where development will be at its' peak. However, that does not mean stretching in the morning is useful, if anything this is a good time to stretch it will get your muscles ready and mentally prepare yourself for the day ahead.
- Personal Ambition - Previously touched upon, but definitively worth mentioning again. If a sport requires more strength then it does flexibility, then a practitioner of a strength sport will not stretch as much as a gymnast, however stretching is still important even for strength athletes, I mean after all, some flexibility is needed for day to day living... Being a martial artist myself, I try and find the balance between strength and flexibility, while you want your kicks to be high, you also want them to be strong and powerful. So I stretch using the PNF method, but also endure the muscles against a punchbag so that conditioning and strength of impact are also built up.
- If aiming to increase flexibility in the short term, use static stretches for 15-30 seconds, with a maximum of 4-5 sets per muscle / muscle group. There short term changes will usually last between 60 - 120 minutes, depending on many variables, such as environment and exercise performed.
- For long -term changes to flexibility, dynamic and PNF stretching should be used, holding the stretches for 30-45 seconds per muscle, again with a maximum of 4-5 sets per muscle. Long-term flexibility results will take around 5-7 weeks at most before you can really notice a difference in the flexibility of that muscle.
- PNF stretching can achieve a wide range of movement, and is considered to be more effective than static stretching, however some muscles can be difficult to stretch in this manner on your own.
- Stretching is an integral part of recovery from muscle soreness and strains. A progressive and active stretching programme can reduce rehabilitation time dramatically.
- A regular stretching routine, combined with your normal training will help to prevent injuries from occurring. This routine should be designed specifically for your own personal goals concerning stretching.
Obviously research in the pros and cons of stretching will always be ongoing, however the information within this Hub has been at the front of stretching research for decades now. So now that you are loaded with the basics about stretching, remember to stretch!