Is it important?
Who would have ever thought it? Could stretching really be a debated topic? Yes it can, and yes it is! In fact, with the internet, you can easily find numerous articles and studies these days that are on both sides of the "debate." Below I will identify 4 types of stretching, I will list some Pros, Cons and Myths regarding stretching, and I will leave you with 6 tips.
So what about this thing called stretching? Well, as far as most people know, the bottom line about stretching is that it is intended to improve your flexibility and prevent injury in the process. So, with that being said we must ask ourselves 4 questions:
Does stretching really help?
When should we engage in stretching?
How much stretching should we engage in?
What types of stretching techniques should we use?
Let's dive in and discuss 4 types of stretches first.
1) Ballistic stretching is a rapid bouncing stretch in which a body part is moving with momentum that stretches the muscles to a maximum. Muscles respond to this type of stretching by contracting to protect itself from over extending.
2) Dynamic stretching is a walking or movement stretch. By performing slow, controlled movements through a full range of motion, a person reduces risk of injury.
3) Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is a type of stretch for a particular muscle and its specific job, so resistance should be applied, then the muscle should be relaxed.
4) Static stretching, the most popular type of stretching, is a type of stretch whereby a person stretches the muscle until a gentle tension is felt and then holds the stretch for thirty seconds or until a muscle release is felt, without any movement or bouncing.
Now that we are more familiar with types of stretches, let's talk Pros and Cons.
Some Pros of Stretching:
First, it is safe to say that stretching definitely improves your flexibility. But remember, stretching is specific, so be sure to stretch in ways that are exactly how you want your flexibility to improve.
Second, stretching may help but usually it helps with sports that require above-normal flexibility only, like dancing, gymnastics, or diving.
Third, stretching can slightly decrease your risk of muscle strain. This is a good thing but it has been found to be less of a benefit than previously thought.
Fourth, stretching seems to feel good, at least after it's over, but you must not go overboard with it.
Some Con's of Stretching:
First, stretching more than 45 seconds has been shown to decrease muscular strength (by about 5%), power (
2%), and explosive performance ( 2%) for up to an hour. In fact, it has been found, that the longer the stretch, the greater the weakness. So, be sure to keep the stretching short for athletic pursuits!
A Myth of Stretching:
Hold on to your seat! It appears that the latest research suggest that, and I say this with caution even though I know it's true, "static"stretching doesn't exactly do what we once thought it did!
Well, thanks to new studies over the last decade, we now know that stretching actually does not decrease your risk of overall injuries, especially overuse injuries, or anything other than a muscle strain, which was one of the main reasons to stretch in the first place.
Next, stretching does not decrease muscle soreness. It might feel like it does at the time, but research shows that it doesn't actually last. It only seems to lasts an hour or two, but it doesn't seem beneficial to combat that 2 or 3 days soreness that many athletes experience after vigorous activity.
Finally, research shows that stretching does not improve sports performance in sports that do not require high flexibility, like running or biking, and in some cases, as we witnessed in the con section, decreases strength, power and explosive performance.
But, even with this new research, I suggest that if you like stretching, feel free to still engage in it. Just be sure to:
Consider your sport or activity of choice and the pros and cons to stretching for that particular sport
Keep it short, specific and never overstretch your muscles.
Now, here are some of my Parting Tips:
Don't consider stretching a warm-up. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching before these types of events may actually decrease performance.? Strive for symmetry. Everyone's genetics for flexibility are a bit different, so rather than striving for that gymnast or ballet dancer degree of motion, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury).
Focus on major muscle groups. When you're stretching, focus on major muscle groups such as your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders.? Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. Make sure that you stretch both sides. For instance, if you stretch your left hamstring, be sure to stretch your right hamstring, too.
Don't bounce. Stretch in a smooth movement, without bouncing. Bouncing as you stretch can cause injury to your muscle.
Only hold your stretch for 45 or less. Be sure to hold each stretch for about 30 seconds but remember, even in problem areas; do not hold a stretch for longer than 45 seconds.
Don't aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you're stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you've pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don't feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
Make stretches sport specific. For instance, if you play soccer, you're more vulnerable to hamstring strains. So opt for stretches that help your hamstrings.
About Nolan Ferraro, Owner, Salire Fitness and Wellness
Certified personal trainer and licensed wellness coach Nolan Ferraro has been recognized as the #1 Best Personal Trainer in New Orleans. Nolan counts Chef Susan Spicer among the thousands of New Orleanians who have gotten in shape with Salire's high-impact fitness programs like "Power in the Park" a month-long cross-training boot camp in City Park. He has also added a new high intensity interval training class, Body Blitz, at his studio. Visit www.salirefitness.com for more information on Nolan and Salire Fitness & Wellness.