What is Stretching?
Stretching is done before beginning an exercise routine or sports game to primarily improve the range of motion of the joints and muscles. It is a preparatory activity to stimulate neurological awareness and to increase blood flow to the muscles. Stretching is also done after the exercise routine to cool down the muscles and joints and as a form of recovery and regeneration from a physical activity (Manocchia, 2008).
Types of Stretching
There are many kinds of stretching such as passive, dynamic, ballistic, static, contract-relax and resistance stretching. Each of these kinds of stretching uses different techniques and are believed to impact the muscles in a different way. These types of stretching are described below.
Static Stretching is the most common kind of stretching and it is done by targeting a certain muscle group and holding it at its maximal point for about thirty seconds. In general, static stretching can be active or passive. Active stretching is done by an individual where he or she adds force while passive stretching is done with the help of a partner.
Passive stretching is performed with a partner, most likely the coach or the trainer, and the person doing the stretch is not closely involved in it. It is a gradual stretch that is applied slowly to prevent any forceful manipulation of the muscles that in turn can cause injury.
This kind of stretching involves using ROM movements and is typically used for any sports. The main advantage of this stretching is that it targets the muscle group that will be used extensively in the sport and its rhythmic nature will help the muscles to prepare for the primary movement. It also improves the flexibility needed for a sport. A good example is a sprinter doing long strides as a form of preparing for the race (Edwads, 2013).
Ballistic stretching uses a bouncing movement to target a specific group of muscles. This ind of stretching increases the chance of injury, so they should be preceded by static stretching and individuals should start from low velocity movements.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
In this kind of stretching, the target muscles are contracted and then relaxed and stretched with the help of a trainer. PNF stretching is based on autogenic and reciprocal inhibitions with many variations to it.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
As the name implies, this kind of stretching is ideal before strength training routines. Each stretch is only for two seconds with multiple repetitions where each repetition increases the resistance by a few degrees.
Need for Stretching
There is intense controversy on the need for stretching and whether it is positive or negative for the muscles and joints. Unfortunately, there is no conclusive evidence on the benefits or problems with stretching though most experts on this subject agree that warming up reduces the chances of injury. Also, stretching enhances flexibility which is essential in some sports like swimming and gymnastics. One sport where stretching is severely criticized is running because many professional runners have had injuries despite stretching. The reason for injuries, according to some experts, is that the hamstring muscles relaxes when the knee is extended after stretching, but for runners the hamstring should be stiff when knee is extended to give them the additional support needed (Kolata, 2008). Other studies also show mixed results when it comes to stretching and injury, so it is inconclusive.
Other experts in stretching claim that doing certain kinds of stretches such as static stretching will help the muscles to warm up without putting excess pressure on the muscles to remain flexible. They claim that stretching is required in stipulated amounts of time and this time depends on the intensity of the workout, age of the individuals, type of stretching and the health conditions of the people who are doing it. However, stretching for extended periods of time will impair performance and even increase the risk of injury. For example, a healthy individual in their 30s and 40s need 5 x 60 seconds and 4 x 90 seconds of static stretching for performing moderately intense workouts (McHugh & Cosgrave, 2009). For professional sports, individuals are given the following recommendation to prevent injury
- Pre-game stretching should be limited to the target muscles that will be used for the game such as hip flexors in hockey and hamstrings in soccer.
- At least four to five repetitions of 60 second stretches should be applied bilaterally
These are some of the suggestions that individuals can follow to improve their flexibility and performance and at the same time, reduce the chances of injury.
Edwards, Makeba. (2013). What are the Different Types of Stretching Techniques. Acefitness.org. Retrieved from: http://www.acefitness.org/blog/2966/what-are-the-different-types-of-stretching
McHugh, M; Cosgrave, C.H. (2009). To Stretch or Not to Stretch: The Role of Stretching in Injury Prevention and Performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Vol 20. p 169-181.
Kolata, Gina. (March 13, 2008). To Stretch or Not to Stretch? The Answer is Elastic. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/13/health/nutrition/13Best.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Kravitz, Len. (No Date). An in-depth Analysis of Myths, Truths and Controversies. Ideafit. Retrieved from: http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-articles/research-exercise-science
Herbet, RD. (2011). Stretching Before or After Exercise Does Not Reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol 45(15). p 1249-1250.
Manocchia, Pat. (2008). Anatomy of Exercise. New York: Hylas Publishing.