This will be the least ‘sexiest’ article on fitness you will ever read on this website. Why? Because stretching is not sexy. Well, sometimes it is.
I’ll be the first to admit stretching can be boring, time consuming, and painful. Like me, you probably want to do a quick warm-up and get into your workout routine every time you go to the gym. But, what if I were to tell you there are certain stretches that 1) don’t take long 2) aren’t very painful and 3) will make you STRONGER in your workouts? Still interested? Keep reading.
There have been extensive studies into different types of stretching and their benefits. Most of these studies* have involved Static Stretching and its effects on a muscles range of motion. The most conclusive and consistent data we can pull from these studies on static stretching are 1) they make your muscles WEAK before a workout and 2) their effectiveness only lasts 30 seconds** into the stretch. Basically, bending over and touching your toes for 60 seconds doesn’t do a whole lot.
Static Stretching Example
The good news is many coaches and athletes of different sports have done the hard work for you. They have tested several variations of stretches to improve their range of motion. Why? Better range of motion means improved strength, which leads to speed and power. All of which make an athlete better! Now, you’re probably not an athlete but you do like getting stronger or, at a minimum, don’t like being stiff and sore. For those reasons, among others, I have listed several stretches that give you the biggest bang for your buck…err, muscle.
Active Stretching is when you use opposing muscle groups to stretch and strengthen one another. You read that right…stretching while strengthening your muscles. A perfect example of this is lying on your back and bringing one of your knees to your chest with your fingers interlocked behind your thigh. From this position you would try to straighten your left until the bottom of your shoe/foot is facing the ceiling. This stretch would only be held for 10-15 seconds before relaxing and repeating 8-12x. Want to perform an active stretch for your entire body? Do a Yoga class. Many yoga poses are active stretches and great for increasing range of motion. Downside? It takes too long if you want to do it before a workout.
Active Stretching Example
Dynamic Stretching has become all the rage for athletes and regular gym folk alike. Dynamic simply refers to the stretching of muscles being performed with movement: arm circles, leg swings, high knees, trunk twists, and so on. This is one of the fastest ways to improve your range of motion while ‘waking up’ your muscles prior to a workout. Unlike static stretching you don’t lose strength prior to your lifts. Dynamic stretching only allows your muscles to lengthen to their furthest end point without over doing it. Downside? Range of motion is increased a little bit, not a lot.
Dynamic Stretching Example
PNF Stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) is considered the best and fastest way of improving the greatest range of motion in the shortest amount of time. Without making things too complicated, PNF stretching is a combination of passive stretching (something else making you stretch) and isometric stretching (contracting of muscles being stretched). This is best performed with a partner but can be done, if creative enough, on your own. There are several forms of PNF stretching but the most common is the contract-relax-contract method. Assuming a v-sit position have someone push on your mid-lower back to help you bring your chest to the floor. Have you partner push until you reach a point where there is a slight discomfort. Once there flex (contract) your quads/adductors for 7-15 seconds. Now, relax. You should be closer to the ground than before. Repeat 2-3x. for each muscle group/movement pattern to be worked that day.
PNF Stretching Example
Functional Stretching is the most recent ‘discovery’ by athletic trainers and coaches. It is a method of stretching a muscle or group of muscles in a specific movement pattern to improve range of motion. For example, if you have trouble pressing weight overhead then you would practice that movement pattern by performing a banded forearm wall slide. Think of functional stretching as a combination of PNF stretching and dynamic stretching. Movement is involved and you are contracting the muscles.
Functional Stretching Example
Now, I could go into all the boring details of why this is happening. Everything from muscle spindles, receptors, and strength tension relationships, etc. but what you need to know is when to perform these stretches.
Step 1 – PNF stretching
Step 2 – Functional Stretching
Step 3 – Dynamic Stretching
Step 1 – Active Stretching
Step 2 – Static Stretching
– Joshua Jarmin