Did you know that there are many different stretching methods that go way beyond the stretches you learned in gym class?
Most of us would agree that stretching feels great. But stretching, in general, has benefits far beyond just feeling good.
Stretching increases blood flow to your muscles. In turn, this increased blood flow brings important nutrients to the muscles for growth and recovery. It also removes waste by-products out of the muscle tissue (which may aid in post-exercise recovery and help prevent soreness.)
But that's only the start of how stretching does your body good.
Four more incredible benefits of stretching:
- Increases your flexibility & range of motion, which makes it easier and less tiring to perform daily activities
- Gives you better posture. Tight muscles pull your body into awkward positions (we've all seen the hunched over posture of someone suffering from back pain.)
- Maintaining a full range-of-motion through your joints improves your coordination. Good coordination protects us from falls and keeps us mobile as we age.
- Helps relax tense muscles and reduces anxiety.
So let's look at five different types of stretching methods that can help you achieve your health and fitness goals.
Static Stretching Method
Static stretching holds a stretched position over time (usually 30-60 seconds.) This is the type of stretching most of us did in our high school gym classes. (Remember the torture of those hurdler's stretches?)
Static stretching has fallen somewhat out of favour because of studies that reported static stretching temporarily decreases athletic performance.
However, the decline in performance from static stretching occurs when stretches are performed without an adequate warm up. Researcher David Behm and colleagues found that including static stretching within a routine that includes dynamic activity after the static stretch actually decreases the risk of injury and increases range-of-motion.
Expert's Static Stretching Recommendations
Karl Riecken, Coordinator of Performance Testing and Exercise Physiologist at the USA Triathalon Performance Center suggests three to five minutes of aerobic activity (preferably cycling, swimming or rowing) followed by one to three sets of static stretching from 15 to 45 seconds in duration. Then do another short session of aerobic activity before beginning your workout session to optimize the benefits from static stretching.
This stretching method's potential benefits include relief from cramps, improved range of motion, a decrease in DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) as well as a reduction in potential injuries.
Dynamic Stretching Method
Dynamic stretching (DS) uses movement to stretch and warm up the muscles. Examples of dynamic stretching are pulling your knees to your chest, lunging with a twist to one side, high kicks with outstretched arms, hip stretches with a twist and jump squats.
DS is popular as a pre-workout warmup because it helps to increase range of motion. It also enhances muscular power and performance. One of the main benefits of dynamic stretching is that it warms up the muscles to their peak performance temperature.
This stretching method can improve your mobility short and long-term and reduce your possibility of injury.
Ballistic Stretching Method
Ballistic stretching includes rapid, bouncing and repetitive motions that help to increase range of motion. The aim of the process is to force the muscles past their normal range of motion. Dance and gymnastics that include ballistic stretching in their training regimens.
If you've ever seen a ballerina bouncing up and down to touch her toes over-and-over, you've seen an example of ballistic stretching. While ballistic stretching has its applications for certain sports and dancing, it isn't ideal for all stretching routines. Don't attempt ballistic stretching without the supervision of an experienced trainer because of its high injury potential.
Ballistic Stretching Can Be Risky
Ballistic stretching makes individuals more susceptible to injury because it forces their limbs to extend past their normal range of motion. This can lead to a tear or sprain from the pressure on the muscles. In extreme cases, ballistic stretching can permanently damage muscle tissue and nerves. It can also trigger the stretch mechanism, in which the muscles tighten to protect ligaments and joints from moving past the range of motion, so it can be counterproductive.
A British Journal of Sports Medicine study indicated that ballistic stretching can improve hamstring flexibility for people who suffer from too-tight hamstrings. If you're looking to push your body past its comfort zone, ballistic stretching may be right for you. Just make sure you understand the risks involved with this stretching method.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
PNF is an advanced form of stretching originally developed to help patients with neurological impairment (brain injuries, strokes, multiple sclerosis etc.) This type of flexibility training uses a combination of stretching and muscle contraction to target specific muscle groups, increase flexibility and muscular strength.
Stretch with a Buddy
According to Brad Walker, noted stretching coach, PNF stretches require the muscle group to be positioned so the muscles are stretched and under tension. Then the individual contracts the muscle group for a few seconds while a partner (or immovable object) immobilizes the limb. Next, the muscle group is relaxed, then a controlled stretch of 20-30 seconds is performed. After the muscle group is rested for 30 seconds, then the entire process is repeated 2-4 times.
Improved Athletic Performance
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation produces faster improvements in range of motion than static stretching does. It also improves athletic performance and helps repair the muscle micro-tears in muscle that occur from high-intensity workouts. Note: It is recommended that PNF exercises be completed after a workout, not before.
Loaded Progressive Stretching Method
Loaded Progressive Stretching does what it says on the tin. A load is added to the stretch in the form of a weight or a partner. This produces a greater degree of stretching that can be achieved without the load. The idea behind loaded progressive stretching is to expand the layer of connective tissue that lies over the muscles called fascia.
Fascia acts much like a protective bag that covers the muscles. The tightness of this layer determines how much the muscle can expand. Once the muscles reach a certain point in growth, the fascia will slow down future growth in order to protect against rupture. Only by expanding the fascia layer will further muscle growth occur.
Lift Heavier/Grow Muscle
In addition, LPS enables your central nervous system to lift heavier weights. The deeper, fuller stretch achieved during LPS tells your brain to recruit more muscle fibres for your effort. This stretching method allows you to increase your weight during your next few repetitions by 5-10%, which leads to muscle growth.
Feeling Overwhelmed by All These Different Stretching Methods?
You don't have to be when there is the We Stretch app! Our app delivers custom stretching routines that build on your past progress. Each session will get a little more challenging. Stil, you'll never be pushed too far, too fast. We Stretch is perfect for any age or fitness level. You can even challenge your friends and family to stretch with you!
So why not sign up to be notified when We Stretch, our progressive stretching app launches this September? We're looking for beta testers soon - be one of the first to gain access!