Every individual has different degrees of flexibility. Genetics, injuries, and abnormal biomechanics all play a role in these differences. In order to improve the range of body motions, stretching should be done gradually over a long period of time and then maintained to prevent slipping back towards inflexibility. The key to success is to be patient and consistent. Stretching requires time and it is also important to stay relax. The student should take the opportunity to breath deeply and let your mind connect with your body.
If you have any problems ask your doctor before beginning a stretching program. No stretching routine should be painful. Pain indicates either incorrect technique or a medical problem. If in doubt, consult a qualified health professional.
The purpose of stretching is to improve flexibility in order to reduce, prevent or treat injuries, enhance performance and possibly reduce muscle soreness after strenuous exercise. There are four methods of stretching: static, ballistic, dynamic and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).
Static stretching is recommended method to increase flexibility since it is the least likely to cause injury. Static stretching includes both passive and isometric stretching. Static stretching is done by slowly moving a joint towards it's end-range of motion. A gentle "pulling" sensation should be felt in the desired muscle. This position is then held for 15 - 20 seconds, with a focus on relaxing the target muscle. Breathing deeply also help the stretch. There should not be any feeling of pain or bouncing motion. Passive stretching is also referred to as relaxed stretching, and as static-passive stretching. A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus. Yoga and similar forms of exercises uses passive stretches. Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching (meaning it does not use motion) which involves the resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles. Some martial arts such as Hung Gar use this type of exercises to increase flexibility.
Ballistic (bouncing) stretching is generally not recommended as a method for the general public.
Ballistic stretching means bobbing, bouncing or using some type of moving pressure to stretch the target muscles. Ballistic stretching is not recommended because it activates the myotatic reflex and causes the muscles to tense, rather than relax. Ballistic stretching also is has a high risk of injury if not done probably.
Dynamic stretching is generally performed in place of ballistic stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves slow controlled movements through the full range of motion without stress or tension. Examples of dynamic stretches are joint rotations, neck mobility, shoulder circles, side bends and hip rotations. Tai chi and some internal styles are effectively using dynamic stretching methods.
PNF stretching are probably best reserved for a select few who are experienced with their use. PNF stretching stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching. It combines passive stretching (see section Passive Stretching) and isometric stretching (see section Isometric Stretching) in order to achieve maximum static flexibility. PNF refers to any of several post-isometric relaxation stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position, and then is passively stretched again through the resulting increased range of motion. PNF stretching usually employs the use of a partner to provide resistance against the isometric contraction and then later to passively take the joint through its increased range of motion. It may be performed, however, without a partner, although it is usually more effective with a partner's assistance.
Stretching should be done after warm-up exercises in order to get the most benefit. The increased blood flow to the muscles aids in the flexibility gains from stretching and is an important component for injury prevention. Within a session, each subsequent stretch of a particular muscle group seems to give progressively more flexibility. A set of 3 to 5 stretches is probably sufficient to get the maximum out of the routine. You can alternate between agonist and antagonist muscle groups (eg. quadriceps and hamstrings), and alternate sides. It is also a good idea to start with the neck and progress down to the feet. This enables you to take advantage of gains in flexibility from the previously stretched muscle groups. Stretching should also be done after the workout. The post-workout stretch is thought to aid in recovery. Cold packs can be applied to sore areas in those of you who are recovering from injuries.
Stretching are so basic that many people perform the exercises incorrectly. Students should be aware of the following points:
- Know the limits of your motion.
- Work on increasing strength as well as increasing your range of motions.
- There should be mild discomfort at the limit of the motion range of the target muscles but this should not linger nor become painful. If you experience pain, stop and consult with the appropriate health professionals as soon as possible.
- Do-not bounce during a stretch unless you have been properly conditioned. In general, quick sharp motions only the muscles reflexily contract. Bouncing could lead to muscle tears and other types of injuries.
- Understand the purpose of each movement and the affected muscle groups.
- Gravity assisted stretches use the force of gravity to increase the range of motion and increase the stress on particular muscle group. Splits and toe touches are common examples of gravity assisted stretches. Although they are useful, they should be performed only after the muscle is fully warmed up.
- Be careful when you are performing any exercises that involve stretching the back.