Although often neglected, stretching to enhance flexibility is a critical component of a balanced exercise program. From an adaptation perspective, stretching is performed to improve range-of-motion at a specific joint complex. Essentially, the objective of stretching is to elongate either load producing tissues (muscles) or load transmitting tissues (tendon and ligaments) that have been compressed to an abnormally short length by posture and the activities of daily life. Three types of stretches are performed to achieve this objective: static, dynamic, and proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) what a mouthful! Static stretching is what is considered “conventional” stretching. A static stretch is performed by slowly lengthening the soft tissues around a joint and holding that lengthened position for 6-20 seconds. Dynamic stretching is a ballistic stretch in which soft tissues are rapidly lengthened and typically not held at all (think about the warm-ups in our classes). PNF stretching uses muscle reflexes to momentarily increase range-of-motion beyond typical physiological limits. We’ll save PNF stretching for another blog, let’s focus mostly on static and dynamic stretching… Although research isn’t 100% conclusive, we still have some general recommendations based on the body of research that has come out in the past 15 years.
When to Do It
Post exercise to improve joint range of motion.
At least 1 stretch per muscle group held for approximately 20-30 seconds.
3-5x per week
When Not to Do It
When you are not adequately warmed up.
Before sports that require explosiveness. Some research shows a decrease in power production while others show no change. It is probably better to border on the safe side and do a dynamic warmup
When to Do It:
Before an activity that requires explosive movements.
20-30 seconds per movement. 1-2 rounds of each movement. Make sure you are going through a full range of motion.
Prior to activities that require explosive movements.
When Not to Do It:
Currently there are no contraindications to dynamic stretching.
More Research is Needed!
In the past 15 years, much of the research that has come out on stretching supports the recommendations above, however there have been a few conflicting studies that suggest we probably have more research to do before the protocol for the “perfect” stretching routine is set in stone. For now, what you see above can only benefit you and won’t set you back in your training 🙂
Thanks for reading!