Should You Stretch?
People generally stretch for three reasons:
- Increase range of motion
- Strength enhancement
- Performance enhancement
Despite all the research surrounding stretching, this topic remains controversial. Some research show that static stretching done prior to strength activity can decrease strength for up to two hours post stretch. There is also evidence that static stretching negatively influences performance based on reports of impaired balance, reaction times, movement times and jump height.
Research does support pre-activity active isolated or dynamic stretches as long as muscle imbalances are not present to impede proper movement.
So, should you stretch?
Yes, but based upon an assessment to determine what muscles are tight and need to be lengthened and which are weak and need to be strengthened.
A systematic approach to flexibility should include:
- Self Myofascial release
- Stretching of tight muscles
- Activation of weak muscles
- Integration of functional and dynamic movements
There are three categories of flexibility:
Corrective flexibility (Corrective/Stabilization phase) is used to address postural dysfunction, muscle imbalance and joint dysfunction. It incorporates self-myofascial release (e.g. foam roller), static stretching and neuromuscular stretching.
Active flexibility is used to improve soft tissue extensibility in all planes of motion by employing the neurophysiological principle of reciprocal inhibition. Active flexibility uses agonists and synergists to actively move a limb through a range of motion, while the functional antagonist is being stretched, e.g. actively contracting the hip flexors, to stretch the hip extensors. Because you cannot co-contract opposing muscles simultaneously, the muscles opposite to those contracting are reciprocally inhibited, allowing for a greater stretch. Active flexibility can incorporates self-myofascial release, neuromuscular stretching and active isolated stretching (as mentioned above).
Neuromuscular stretching is known as Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation. It is based on the neurophysiological mechanisms of autogenic inhibition and reciprocal inhibition. A trainer or healthcare professional passively moves the limb until the first resistance barrier and then has the person actively contract the agonist (muscle opposite to the one being stretched) with 25% maximal resistance isometrically (against the tester) for 7-15 seconds. After relaxation of this brief contraction, the limb is then actively moved by the individual to the next resistance barrier and held for 20-30 seconds. This is repeated three times.
Functional Flexibility is dynamic stretching used to improve multiplanar (in all directions) soft tissue extensibility and optimum neuromuscular control at full ranges of motion, while performing movements that require the body’s muscles to control the speed, direction and intensity of the stretch. Examples of Functional Flexibility include: Lunge with rotation, prisoner squat and tube walking.
Self-myofascial release (e.g. foam roller): 1-3 sets for 30 seconds
Static stretching: 1-3 sets for 30 seconds
Active isolated stretching: Hold stretch for 2 seconds and repeat 5 times
Neuromuscular stretching (with partner): A trainer or healthcare professional passively moves the limb until the first resistance barrier and then has the person actively contract the agonist (muscle opposite to the one being stretched) with 25% maximal resistance isometrically (against the tester) for 7-15 seconds. After relaxation of this brief contraction, the limb is then actively moved by the individual to the next resistance barrier and held for 20-30 seconds. This is repeated three times.
Dynamic stretching: 1 set of 10 repetitions
*Flexibility is an important component of an integrative approach to exercise as it relates to rehabilitation and training. A comprehensive approach should be based on an assessment and should include:
- Reactive (plyometric)
- Speed, agility, quickness