By Shawna Reed, Exercise Specialist
Stretching is a form of physical exercise where a specific muscle or tendon is flexed or stretched in order to improve the muscle’s elasticity and achieve comfortable muscle tone. The benefits of stretching include (but are not limited to): relief from cramping, improved range of motion, decreased risk of injury and a decrease in delayed-onset muscle soreness. Stretching can be both physically and mentally relaxing. Remember to take deep, slow breaths. You should feel some tension while you stretch, but don’t ever let it be painful. There are many different types of stretching techniques. Below are a few of them, their benefits and when to use each method of stretching.
- Static stretching is a stretch that is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 30 to 60 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching, and is usually performed during general fitness routines. It is considered the safest and most effective form of stretching to improve overall flexibility. The best time for static stretching is after your workout as part of your cool down routine.
- Dynamic Stretching is often referred to as a dynamic warm-up. A dynamic warm-up is defined as a series of sport-specific movements that are designed to prepare the muscles for performance. This form of stretching is performed in a safe and controlled fashion. It increases blood flow throughout the body, therefore warming up the muscles. A couple examples of dynamic warm-ups are: high knees, butt-kickers, lunges, high kicks, etc. This is a great warm-up before you exercise as it increases blood flow to the muscles.
- Passive stretching is a technique in which you are relaxed and make no contribution to the range of motion. Instead, an outside agent creates force, either manually or mechanically. Examples include using a towel, band, gravity or another person to help you stretch. This stretch is best after a workout or when you feel muscle tightness.
- PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching techniques involve a partner actively stretching you by some combination of altering contraction and relaxation of both agonist and antagonist muscles (Antagonist muscle – a muscle that opposes the action of another. Agonist muscle– a muscle that contracts while the other relaxes). An example would be biceps and triceps in the arm and hamstrings and quadriceps in the leg. You should only do this form of stretching with the help of a qualified fitness specialist.