Stretching – The different types and when to use them
Every sports person has an opinion regarding stretching and which one is best. I often get asked by my clients whether they should stretch and hold or lunge on the spot.
So let’s bust a few myths and clarify exactly what stretching is, why we do it and what it can do for you.
Why should we stretch and what is it?
Stretching techniques currently used in rehabilitation and exercise are to increase flexibility and have been identified in categories consisting of static stretching, proprioceptive neuro-muscular facilitation (PNF) requiring isometric contraction or ballistic stretching requiring the patient to use a bouncing technique.
Let’s break these down…
Static Stretching has been the gold standard stretch for several decades and is widely used throughout all sports. This stretch technique is commonly performed after sports to help limit muscular pain after workouts and cool down safely to limit injuries after sport. The American College for Sports Medicine states ‘the position in which a slight stretch is felt should be held 15-30 seconds, and each stretch should be repeated 3-5 times at least twice weekly on each side of the body’ .
- Static Stretching should be performed when your muscles are warm
- 15-30 seconds duration
- An element of discomfort should be felt (4/10 pain or slight pull)
Proprioceptive neuro-muscular facilitation (PNF)
(Some people may refer to this stretch as the contract relax stretch).
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a more advanced form of flexibility training that requires a contraction and a stretch to the muscle that your targeting. Generally, you find this is best done with help from a second person to start with.
PNF stretching was originally used by many clinicians as form of rehabilitation, and can be very effective. It is excellent for targeting specific muscle groups, and as well as increasing flexibility, it also improves muscular strength.
How to perform a PNF stretch:
Contract Relax PNF (e.g. Hamstrings)
- Laying flat the partner moves the extended leg until the point of discomfort
- Hold for 10-15 seconds
- Now push your leg (power felt in the hamstrings) against your partner contracting the muscle for 15 seconds
- Relax back to the extended position – your partner or therapist may push your leg further into a stretch than previous
- Repeat this technique 3 -5 times in a session
PNF should be performed only when the muscles are warm or by a trained professional as part of a rehab program or clinical treatment.
Typically, you now see dynamic stretching used pre-sport, pre-work out or performed as part of a warm up routine as this type of stretching intends to be very sport specific. It’s recommended to warm your body (perhaps a 400m jog) and then go into your dynamic flexibility.
Examples of dynamic stretching are: high knees, butt kickers, sidekicks, skipping, arm circles, lunging and mountain climbers.
Ballistic stretching is stretching with a bounce. This type of stretching is similar to ballistic but often confused due to the similarities. Due to the risk of injury as outlined by the American College of Orthopaedic Consultants.
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This is stretching, or “warming up”, by bouncing into (or out of) a stretched position. (e.g. bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes.) This stretch may even cause your muscles to spasm or tighten up by repeatedly activating the stretch reflex
Give our clinic a call on 0333 220 0238 for any advice regarding your stretching routine, we will be happy to chat over any questions you have or even assess your flexibility or sporting needs.