When should I stretch?

Stretching cold muscles can increase risk of injury.

There is evidence that supports stretching after a sport practice as part of a cool-down routine. The hamstrings, calves, chest, shoulder and low back are areas that everyone can benefit from stretching on a daily basis.

Stretch when muscles are warm! Whether you do a light cardiovascular warm-up prior to stretching or stretch at the end of your workout, there will be less strain at the muscle attachments. The stretched muscles will be more pliable and you’ll notice you can stretch farther if you stretch within 15 of activity.

The Different Types of Stretching

  • Ballistic uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This method does not offer much benefit as other techniques and can lead to injury. Examples: jerky movements like bouncing to touch your toes
  • Static involves stretching a muscle (or a group of muscles) to its farthest point without pain and then maintaining or holding that position. These are held for at least 20 seconds and repeated 2-3 times. They are the traditional stretches most commonly used. Examples: quadriceps stretch, calf stretch, stretching to your toes
  • Active involves taking a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles. This is in contrast to dynamic stretches where you do not hold the position. Examples: many positions found in Yoga are active stretches
  • Passive (relaxed, static-passive) is where you assume a position and hold it with assistance either from another part of your body or an apparatus. This type of stretching is great for post-workout cool down. Examples: using a doorway to stretch arms/pectorals, using a tower or band to hold leg stretches
  • Dynamic involves gradually moving parts of your body to the limits of your range of motion. They are usually done in sets of 8-12 repetitions. Examples: slow, controlled leg swings, torso twists, hand-walls, kicking buttocks with heels

 

How should I stretch?

There is no “one” good way to stretch. The technique for stretching varies greatly depending on the type of stretch you perform. The number of repetitions, length of holding a stretch, resistance and frequency all need to be tailored to the specific selection of exercises you are doing. What is best for you depends on your current condition and what you are trying to achieve.

Although good for flexibility, static stretching, the most common form of stretch you will see, can negatively affect immediate physical performance among athletes. Static stretching induces what is called a “neuromuscular inhibitory response” that can actually weaken the straining muscle for up to 30 minutes. Dynamic stretching does just the opposite, inducing your muscles to perform. As a result, these stretching motions are currently the stretch of choice with regards to optimizing athletic performance and active flexibility.