Stretching Techniques for Health and Fitness

by Paula Allia
PT, DHSc, MTC, OCS

It is evident in everyday activities and in sport specific exercises that one needs the muscles involved to have a certain amount of flexibility and extensibility. Stretching techniques are an important part of a routine that should be implemented. The question that should be asked is what are you trying to accomplish when you stretch? Are you looking for more flexibility or extensibility? There are many components that affects ones flexibility in a given area.

First the types of joints that are involved limit motions. This, of course can be more limited with calcifications or adhesions in the joints. Secondly, the elasticity of the muscles, tendons, fascia, and skin (essentially all of the connective tissue) all play a factor. Thirdly, will the condition of the muscles components allow the muscles to relax and elongate. Even the temperature of all connective tissue structures all play a role in our ability to stretch. Executing the right type of stretching for the body is key. According to the current literature, stretching that is done prior to activity should be executed much differently than the techniques performed after the activities.

Two types of stretching to be reviewed are called dynamic and static. In both instances, the thought of being properly hydrated by drinking
water is very important. If one is not properly hydrated regularly the flexibility and extensibility will be affected negatively so treat your body right and HYDRATE.

Prior to actual stretching it is generally good to warm up the body by movements that will not be straining the body but will warm up the muscles and joints in order for the stretches to be done more fluidly and thus successfully. For example, if going out for a run, it is better to walk a few blocks to warm the tissues first and then stretch. Either dynamic or static techniques should be done with consideration of proper joint angles so that stretching should not be injurious. Dynamic stretching is used more when preparing for activities. If possible, sport specific stretching should be implemented in order to lessen the possibility of causing injury.

When performing dynamic stretching after warming up but before the actual activity, stretching should be done gradually and the speed and range covered in the stretch should gradually increase as the muscles loosen. This incorporates active with increasing stretching as the muscles
warm. Full ballistic stretching is not recommended (ie bouncing) because this could actually cause soft tissue injury and weaken the muscles and then they will not be ready for the activity. Remember to listen to your body and understand that there should be no pain with this stretching.
There are certain neuromuscular receptors (information carriers to the nervous system) in muscles that respond to quick stretch, prolonged
stretch, and tension. If a muscle is very tight then the proper excursion of the muscle can be an issue.

If you overstretch prior to activity then your muscles may not be properly prepared for what is to come. That is why dynamic stretching may be good prior to the activity. The dynamic stretch is done into a progressive range of motion accommodating the extensibility of the muscles and joints that are warming up. As the range improves that stretch can be done with more speed. If there is pain then use caution because no stretch should be painful in dynamic stretching. A common stretch area for runners and fast walkers is the calf; muscles are stretched appropriately to handle the forces of the road and the speed of the activity. Start slow and stretch the calf in weight bearing both with the knee straight to get the calf muscles that cross behind the knee and bent to get the muscles that cross only the ankle/foot. If everything feels good then repeat the motion with a little more speed back and forth.

These dynamic stretches should not be done excessively, only enough to warm up the muscles and prepare for action. Once you have completed your exercises and are into the cool down phase of exercise, now a more static stretch can be done, holding the muscle maximally for 30 seconds and for four repetitions to stretch out the muscle from all of the contractions. This should be done without pain. There is no need for most to ever stretch into actual pain because this could damage the muscles. The purpose of the stretch after is to undo the tightness from the activities and multiple muscular contractions.

In summary, there are specific stretches to muscles and connective tissue and the quality of the positioning, length of hold, and proper hydration
all play a role. It is important for the body to have the ability to maintain healthy muscle tone and take advantage of the stretch reflexes in the body. Choose the right type of stretching for you. If you have questions or are uncertain on how to execute proper techniques seek out a physical therapist to help guide you. Here’s to your health!

Fitness Together
335 14th Ave South
Naples, FL 34102
239.263.9348
FitnessTogether.com/Naples

 

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