One of the most interesting things I learned when studying for the Personal Training certification last year was how many different ways there are to stretch!
I knew of two or three different ways to increase flexibility and/or warm muscle up, but had no idea there were 9 different options when it comes to stretching.
Static Stretching is what most people think of when they think of stretching or flexibility. This kind of stretching allows a muscle group to relax and targets the end range position so that a greater length can be achieved. Static stretches are held for at least 20-30 seconds.
I generally recommend static stretching at the end of a workout or after muscles are already warmed up. This is where people can really increase a joint’s range of motion and improve flexibility.
Below I am performing a standing hamstring stretch with my leg on a bench and arms and torso rotated towards the stretched leg. The torso rotation adds an additional stretch and targets the muscles at a different angle.
There are actually two kinds of static stretches:
a. Active stretch – individual applies added force to increase intensity.
b. Passive stretch – partner or device provides added force. For example, you could use a band or towel to stretch the hamstrings in a lying straight leg raise hamstring stretch.
Dynamic Stretching is done at the beginning of a workout and prepares the body for exercise by mimicking the upcoming movements. Below are a few of my fave dynamic lower body stretches I like to do with my clients or in classes.
Exercises: stepping runners lunge w/ hamstring stretch, single leg swings, single leg touch downs, inside foot taps, and side lunges
Ballistic Stretching consists of bouncing exercises and triggers the stretch reflex (reflexive muscle contraction in response to a rapid stretch). This kind of stretching is used by athletes such as swimmers who do fast, bouncy arm circles before diving into the pool for a race.
This kind of stretching is not typically recommended as it could stretch ligaments too far if the movement is not controlled.
Active Isolated Stretching is less common but a great way to gradually increase flexibility. A stretch is held for about 2 seconds, then released to the start position, and then stretched again, repeating reps and passing the resistance point each time.
For example, bend and straighten the knee in a lying hamstring stretch (one leg held up in the air), this allows the hammys to relax and the quadriceps to contract. Exhale as you straighten your leg and stretch the hamstrings a little further each rep.
Myofascial Release is a technique that apples pressure to tight, restricted areas of fascia and muscle, inhibits tension in muscle by stimulating the GTO to bring about autogenic inhibition, and realigns elastic muscle and connective tissue from bundled and knotted to straighter fiber arrangement reducing hypertonicity (muscle tension).
This kind of stretching, although it resembles more of a painful massage than a stretch, can be done before a workout to warm the muscles up or after to increase muscle length.
Below are some of my fave videos for and about foam rolling:
How to use a Foam Roller – Sarah Fit
Foam Rolling Mistakes – ATHLEAN
Full-Body Rolling Out Routine – Perfect Form With Ashley Borden
Foam Rolling for Runners – Sarah Fit
#FriskyFall Foam Roller Routine ~ Tone It Up
15 Minute Full Body Foam Rolling Home Routine – Jessica Smith
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is the final and most complex kind of stretching, in my opinion. PNF involves both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. There are a few different kinds of PNF stretches. I will briefly cover them, but for more info check out PNF Stretching: A How-To Guide.
a. Hold-relax – isometric muscle contraction for 6 sec. in targeted muscles then relax and allow passive stretch for 30 sec.
b. Contract-relax – push against force for concentric contraction through full ROM of targeted muscles then relax and allow passive stretch for 30 sec.
c. Hold-relax with Antagonist Contraction – isometric hold like hold-relax technique then add concentric action of the opposing muscle group during final passive stretch.
Stretching takes time and discipline, but it is sooo worth it! Look, you can even do a static stretch while you enjoy your morning coffee! :)
Increasing range of motion in your joints will help you to perform other movements properly and safely, it will reduce low-back pain, decrease risk of injuries, improve posture, and increase circulation!
Two more posts about flexibility training and stretching…
How long do you usually hold a stretch after your workout or run? (I am guilty of only 5-10 seconds…)
Do you have any go-to or favorite stretches you do before a workout?
Any flexibility goals? (I would like to be able to do a split again!)