Stretching. Why, When & How?

Remember when stretching was a simple task? As a kid I remember rocking up to sport 10 minutes before kick off & your coach would get you to touch your toes for 15 seconds, then move onto one or two more and you were ready to go. Now there’s dynamic, static, PNF, ballistic and that’s just to name a few. It can be a little confusing so here is a brief overview into what each type of stretching encompasses so you can start to work out which works best for you.

STATIC STRETCHING

This is the typical form of stretching that most people tend to use. It involves putting the muscle on stretch (lengthening the muscle) and holding it for a period of time. This form has gotten a bit of a bad rap in the last 10 years as there’s no evidence to suggest it decreases the likelihood of injury, but in my opinion it still has its place when used for the right reasons. Sure you can use more effective forms to gain the same results but if it gets you working on your mobility that’s always a positive.

**Look to hold the stretch for up to 2 minutes. You can deep breathe throughout allowing you to relax and sink deeper into your range. Static stretching is best used outside of your normal gym/sport training or post training rather than before training.

DYNAMIC STRETCHING

This form involves moving a muscle through its full range of movement at a relatively fast pace. For example think off leg swings that you often see sprinters do before they race. Dynamic stretching is a great way to work on mobility prior to working out or any athletic endeavours as it gets your muscles & joints moving through their full range, and activates your nervous system in preparation for what lies ahead.

**You should be typically trying to bring the muscle through range at least 15-30 times which can be broken down into two sets and should focus on increasing range each repetition.

BALLISTIC STRETCHING

Ballistic stretching is the not so distant cousin of static & dynamic stretching. It involves taking he muscle into its longest position and then pulsing in and out your end of range trying to go a little further each time. This is another great way to stretch prior to training but there should be some sort of warm up beforehand as ballistic movements place high demands on your muscles, tendons and joints. This could be as simple as some warm up squats or a slow jog, ultimately something to get the body moving & blood pumping.

**Aim for 30 – 45 seconds of pulses at the end of range and two sets. This is a more advanced form of stretching and care should be taken if it’s your first time attempting it. Remember to be warm prior to performing ballistic movements.

PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) STRETCHING

This form is traditionally done with a partner. PNF stretching involves working with passive and active range of motion to improve your muscle length. The theory behind PNF stretching is that by actively contracting the muscle before passively stretching it there will be an autogenic inhibition (a reflex muscle relaxation) which allow for a greater stretch or range of motion to be achieved. PNF can be used before training as it assists with muscle activation however it’s can also be helpful as part of a general mobility program.

**To do a PNF stretch bring the muscle to end of range with the help of a partner, squeeze and push against the partner for 6 seconds (this doesn’t have to be as hard as you can, aim for 40- 50% of your strength), then relax for 30 seconds as a partner pushes you further into stretch and repeat.

BANDED STRETCHING

Banded stretching is relatively new in the world of stretching and involves adding the band to traditional static and ballistic stretching. You will need a strong elastic band (think about the bands that assist people with chin ups), it gets anchor it to a stable structure and then loop it around one of the joints that the muscle attaches close to or crosses over. For example if you are looking to target your hamstring the band will be looped up close to the hip joint. This is a more advanced form that often can require instruction if you haven’t done them before so make sure you ask a health professional to ensure you get it right. Banded stretching adds another dimension to the stretch by targeting the joint as well as the muscles. Once you are familiar with how to do it this form of stretching can be used to prepare for sport or as a general stretching technique.

There are many ways to stretch and we haven’t even touched on trigger balls or foam rollers yet! That’s for another day & another blog.

Remember the key to improving your mobility through stretching is consistency. A little bit every day is better than a lot on one day. Choose the form that you like to do the most & that is most appropriate for what you are trying to achieve whether that be preparing for sport or working on your general flexibility.