Stretching For Improved Mobility Or Performance
The science of stretching has changed dramatically in recent years. In fact, the stretching taught in sports or physical education classes back in grade school is but one type of stretching that the body needs for mobility, performance, and recovery. But the truth of the matter is, it’s only over the last decade or so of research that has shown the benefits and dangers of different kinds of stretching. Most of us agree that stretching is an important part of training for any sport. However, it’s difficult to know which form of stretching is most effective.
Why do I need to stretch?
Daily life for most of us includes a lot of sitting - whether in a car, at a desk or on a couch or comfy armchair. Shortened, cold muscle fibers are more prone to strain and injury once we get up and move.
Stretching is one way to warm muscles up prior to working out and help minimize injury post workout. It will also add increased overall flexibility and mobility. Even active adults can fall into a routine with the wrong type of stretching and end up injured.
When injury does occur and you are experiencing pain or uncomfortable tension in the muscle or other soft tissue, consult a sports chiropractor to ascertain the cause of your pain and provide the stretches and mobility movements best suited to your specific circumstance.
The type of stretching you should be doing also pertains to when you’re stretching. See below the 4 main types of stretching and see which best matches your desired outcomes.
1. Ballistic Stretching
Ballistic stretching consists of fast-paced movement to push the muscle to stretch in and out of a position, using muscles like a spring. This method has an increased chance of injury, as it forces the muscles to the limits of their natural range of motion without giving them time to relax and stretch into the positions. As a general rule, avoid ballistic stretching, and opt for another method below.
For maintaining overall flexibility and range of motion, static and PNF stretching is recommended.
2. Static Stretching
Static or active stretching is probably the method you are familiar with. Positioning the body into a pose that finds tension within a muscle or muscle group, hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds, then release.
Although static stretching enhances the range of motion/flexibility around a joint, there is little scientific evidence to suggest static stretching prior to working out will prevent activity-related injury, and more specifically it does not enhance athletic performance. A growing body of research shows static stretching may actually have a negative effect on force production, power performance, strength endurance, reaction time, and running speed.
However, it’s also important to mention chronic stretching can enhance the range of motion around a joint. To maximize the stretching benefits, static stretching should be done on a long term, consistent basis.
Many yoga poses are examples of static stretching.
3. Dynamic stretching
Dynamic stretching is great for warming up before workouts. Dynamic stretching involves moving a muscle through controlled motions, and gradually increasing range of motion and/or speed. Continue 8-12 repetitions for dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching and sport-specific movements help maximize active ranges of motion at different movement-specific speeds while preparing the body for the demands of the sport. It enhances oxygen delivery to the muscles, increases the speed of nerve-impulse transmissions, improves rate of force development, and maximizes strength and power. So, if you are looking for the best stretching option prior to exercise, dynamic stretching is the best choice as it will help deliver a boost in your athletic performance.
Walking leg hugs or leg swings are examples of dynamic stretching.
4. PNF Stretching
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, is an advanced form of flexibility training. It involves the contraction and stretching of muscles. PNF stretching techniques are usually performed with a partner and involve both passive movements and active (concentric and isometric) muscle actions. Although there are thoughts that PNF stretching is superior to other stretching methods, evidence hasn’t been consistently shown.
There are many benefits to regular stretching. Not only can stretching help increase your flexibility, which is an important factor of fitness, but it can also improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and more. For athletes and weekend warriors, finding the right stretching routine can be the difference in elevating your performance to the next level.