Okay, I get it, stretching can be boring and not to mention painful. Lots of us overlook it or even intentionally ignore it in our workouts. But it has HUGE benefits not only for your body’s functionality but also for your performance and recovery. Stretching is enormously beneficial for a range of reasons:
· Our ability to move freely or perform a particular exercise depends on our Range Of Motion (ROM) and stretching can aid that significantly
· Increased flexibility at joints
· Reduced muscle soreness after exercise
· Increased blood flow to muscles and improved circulation post-stretching
So with that in mind, lets take a look at three of the main types of stretches to ignite that spark of enthusiasm and take your training and recovery to the next level.
Static stretching involves stretching a muscle to its full range of motion and holding the stretch for a length of time. This type of stretch is often best performed after a workout as part of a cool down. There is evidence to suggest that if carried out before exercise, static stretching could potentially impede optimum performance, particularly in strength sports as the muscle may become weaker because of the stretch.
Two main types of static stretches are utilised in cool downs. The first - developmental stretches - involve stretching the muscle for around 30 seconds at a time in a fixed position. This is often split up into three 10 second stages with each stretching deeper than the last with the goal of extending the range of motion. Once you feel the muscle stretch, hold it for 10 seconds, then challenge the muscle to stretch further for another 10 seconds and once more after that. Take someone with kyphosis for example – that’s a hunched posture with rounded shoulders, often due to tight pectoral muscles. Here, a pectoral stretch worked into a fitness programme could help to loosen those muscles and improve posture over time.
The second, maintenance stretches, are held for slightly shorter periods of time of around 10 – 20 seconds but instead, the stretch is held in one place to focus on maintaining the range of motion as opposed to increasing it.
Dynamic stretching involves stretching a muscle with movement as part of moving your joints through a full range of motion. It is often performed as part of a warm up to increase blood flow to those areas. This type of stretch improves neuromuscular control through its movement thereby optimising your body’s motor control. Try to warm up all major muscle groups around major joints using dynamic stretching. One example might include lunge twists for lower body movements like squats or deadlifts for instance.
· Pre-contraction Stretching
Pre-contraction Stretching is a more advanced technique and is therefore less well known, but has been shown to be more effective at increasing flexibility and range of motion than other types of stretches, and follows the principle of contracting as well as stretching the targeted muscle. The most commonly used type is called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF stretching for short and can be performed in a number of ways. All of them require a contraction of a particular muscle or its antagonist (opposite) before stretching it. This produces a natural reflex allowing the muscle to relax more than it normally would and thereby greatly increasing range of motion. This type of stretch is often best performed with a partner or band in order to produce resistance in the contraction.
So the next time you work out, work out smart and try incorporating some targeted stretching both before and after – your training will thank you for it!