Stretching has been a common recommendation for decades to help alleviate tight muscles, improve movement capabilities, and reduce pain. Doctors to fitness professionals agree that most people should be stretching more often than they currently are. With the uptick in new information coming out every year about how to stretch better and more effectively, this article is meant to give you a quick understanding of the two most common forms of individual stretching modalities.
The oldest form of stretching is called static and has been used for centuries. Static stretching is the form many of us are familiar with from grade school fitness tests to countless articles out there dedicated to improving low back pain. So how does it work? Static stretching begins by identifying the muscle you want to stretch and moving it into a lengthened position. Let’s use your hamstring for an example as it is one most will know. In this instance, you will lay on your back and wrap some sort of strap around your foot.
Now, with the knee fully extended, begin raising the entire leg off the group, using the strap for support. You will raise the leg until you meet resistance in your hamstring. Tightness will begin to increase, limiting how much higher you can raise the leg unless you bend your knee (this would defeat the purpose of the stretch). Once you are in that position, with enough discomfort to be manageable, you will hold this stretch between 30s and 2 min. You may repeat this stretch, increasing the distance each time, 2-3 times.
While static stretching has proven its benefits of improving flexibility, it does have a downside, specifically just before activity. The increased flexibility in a muscle prior to activity can increase your risk of injury and not recommended these days except post exercise. Isn’t stretching before exercise a good thing though?
It is, but there is a different option!
In comes dynamic stretching. This form of stretching is not held for an extended period, but rather goes through a range of motion for a specific muscle with the end range being held no more than 5-20s. By going back and forth in a muscles full range of motion, you are improving blood flow to an area, increasing pliability, but not changing the absolute range of motion. This helps reduce chance of injury as a muscle more active and elastic.
At the end of the day, most of us should be stretching more often than we currently are, striving for 3-7 days a week, hitting every major muscle group. You may utilize both forms of stretching for increased effectiveness.
So, start stretching today and reap the benefits!