Hi, Adam here, when was the last time that you felt so light on your feet and free enough in your body to run up a flight of stairs without hesitation? If it’s been a while and you miss that feeling, then getting in the habit of stretching could be the most powerful step you could take towards re-attaining that type of spontaneity.
From a strength perspective, our body is the most efficient when it is in proper postural alignment and has optimal range of motion (R.O.M.). Therefore, in regards to flexibility, those things get to be the number one objective because it’s that efficiency that equates to peak performance and/or less energy cost to you. And why wouldn’t you want to improve physical performance, and/or have more energy? Having proper posture and optimal R.O.M. automatically makes us stronger as opposed to when we are out of alignment and/or restricted in movement. They are also a big part of the foundation to injury prevention and longevity.
Fortunately we have the ability to maintain good posture, or even correct bad posture, and improve R.O.M. with the powerful skill of stretching. Yes, like anything else that we do, it is a skill that requires a basic understanding of the body, and our full attention in its practice. In this article you will learn about some of the effective types of stretching that you can incorporate into your daily routine.
When we don’t take the time to properly stretch out our muscles that are short and tight, they are left in a weakened state. This can result in restrictions in range of motion, and the start of a domino affect of improper movement strategies, accelerated sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue with aging), compensations, and further debilitating dysfunctions in the body. We are then left feeling inhibited because activities that used to be so easy have now become more cumbersome. This may become our initial deterrent from participating in the rigorous physical exercise it takes to maintain or improve our health and fitness.
Limit This Type of Stretching
Most of us are all too familiar with the traditional static stretching method that has us hold a position for 30-60 seconds. And in that time we may be experiencing a good deal of pain or discomfort, which can become so intense at times that we need to mentally “check out” to block it out. Why would you subject yourself to that if you don’t have to?
Stretching is an activity that we should be fully engaging in mentally to become better connected to our body and to our mind. During stretching you get to focus in on the action of maintaining the specific body alignments and actions to stretch the targeted muscles, which should always be pain-free with the help of maintaining relaxed breathing.
Stretching Before Activity
In preparation for an activity, the objective of stretching is to ready the body to move as efficiently as possible in activity by promoting our muscles to be at their optimal functional length for proper postural alignment and symmetry in range of motion.
Start off by focusing on stretching the muscles that have been identified by either you or a certified personal trainer as chronically or acutely short and tight, which are inhibiting other muscles, and misaligning the body’s posture. Based on individual needs, some people may need to stretch more muscles on one side of their body than the other; anterior or posterior and/or right or left. Otherwise you will have diminished strength, power, overall performance, and increase the risk for injury.
I recommend using one or both methods of Active Isolated Stretching and Dynamic Stretching before activity.
Active Isolated Stretching is when you voluntarily contract one muscle, the agonist, in order to achieve a relaxation and lengthening of its opposition, the antagonist. Through the body’s own innate principal of reciprocal inhibition, this process allows for a progressive and safe increase in flexibility using repetitive isolated movements for a hold count of two seconds. This very brief hold is to prevent the body’s protective defense mechanisms from setting off the alarms the cause our muscle to tense up with resistance, and result in pain or high discomfort.
This method of stretching is excellent because it allows you to build strength within the newly attained range of motion. This is something that does not occur in the traditional static stretching that is so commonly used. Active Isolated Stretching also will sufficiently warm-up the soft-tissues in preparation for activity.
Here is one example:
Dynamic stretching is fluid in motion, and is designed to mimic a subsequent activity, usually an athletic sport, with exaggerated movements that can be done slow initially for you to notice and work through troubled areas. Then with gradual gains in R.O.M., pick up the speed of movement to resemble the neuromuscular demands of an activity for optimal performance.
Here is one example:
Stretching After Activity
The objective of stretching after an activity is to leave a muscle relaxed at its optimal length to promote balance in the body and correct alignment of our posture.
Isometric stretching is an excellent method to produce a lasting flexibility effect because of how it integrates both the connective tissue, called fascia, and the targeted muscles to alleviate restrictions in movement and associated tension. As is referenced in its name, the technique involves an isometric action, which means that you are creating direct tension throughout the body while maintaining specific postures to isolate a particular area of restriction. In a sense, you are creating directional acute tension to alleviate chronic tension.
With Isometric stretching you are controlling the tension throughout the duration, which means that your body’s defense alert response time is further delayed, which allows for greater gains in flexibility without the pain. However, there may be some discomfort during this type of stretching, but not from alarms of potential ensuing pain, but actually from the intensity felt from the high effort involved. These stretches should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds, and ideally one minute. As you might imagine, it may take a little getting used to applying that level of extended effort, but it is extremely valuable and worthwhile.
Here is one example:
*On a side note, to get the most benefit from any stretching, it requires a higher level of energy output and participation than most people realize. The belief that stretching should be a passive activity is a fallacy.
If you have a partner or a trainer, you can do assisted stretching using the technique of using repeated short contractions against the manual resistance of the stretcher followed by a subsequent relaxation, and then by either a passive or active increase range of motion. This technique is called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF if you prefer, which is much easier to remember. It is extremely effective in producing improved range of motion in a shorter period of time.
How you stretch and when is the key to amazing results. Therefore, choose your stretching methods wisely, and you will notice a big difference in how you feel in your body and perform in life.