What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word stretch. I’ll tell you what I think of; pain. The severe discomfort of extending your muscles farther than they want to go and holding the position until you are red in the face, possibly shaking. Well, this is how I used to think of stretching and is why I used to omit it from so many of my workouts. I dreaded stretching.
A lot has changed. Stretching does not have to be the 20 minutes of torture you force yourself to endure after each workout, and really shouldn’t be. I have discussed ad nauseam the importance of stretching, when to stretch, and the dangers of stretching incorrectly. There is an infinite amount of information available online, as well as professionals who went to school and specialize in stretching. Let us assume that this is a topic worth considering. However, since none of our bodies are the same, not all of this stretching advise pertains to each of us in the same way. Fortunately, fitness professionals all over have addressed this issue and have provided three different types of stretching to try, consider, and eventually adopt into your individual routine.
The Three types of stretching:
Active Isolated Stretch (AIS)
Active isolated stretching works by activating the opposite muscle to the one you are stretching (if you want to stretch the hammys, you contract the quad) which allows the muscle to be stretched a chance to relax. This type of stretching is held for two seconds, compared to the traditional 30. Working both with the shortened time as well as concentrating of contracting opposing muscle groups, this stretch greatly decreases the chances of over stretching, pulling, or generally injuring muscles. The decrease in time also prevents pain. By repeating this many times (enough times to add up to a normal stretching time) we achieve the same amount of flexibility.
Contract-release stretching, also known as contract-relax, is a popular form of stretching in which the stretched muscle group alternates between contracting and relaxing. For example, a hamstring stretch is passively held for a few seconds and then the muscle is contracted. This is repeated several times with the goal the each set will provide a deeper stretch than the last. This can be done a few ways, the first with contract-relax where in the muscle is contracted in an isotonic stretch (muscle contraction against resistance). For example, a trainer providing opposing resistance during the moments of muscle contraction. Hold-relax is a similar form of this method, except the resistance is omitted and contraction is isometric (there is no movement during muscle contracting).
Static stretching is what we most commonly think of in terms of stretching. It is pretty straight forward; a challenging position is held for 20-30 seconds. This is a tried and true method for increasing blood flow and flexibility, however it really should only be attempted AFTER a workout and cool-down period. Some things to keep in mind;
- It should never hurt. Do not force your body to do something it isn’t ready for.
- Be patient, don’t push yourself on the first try. As you repeat the stretch several time your range of motion will dramatically increase.
- Set reasonable goals for yourself. If you can’t touch the floor with your knees straight, don’t tell yourself you will be doing splits in a week.
Dynamic Stretching and Warm-ups
It is terrific that yoga and Pilates incorporate stretching into every exercise in a dynamic way. Even if you do not select either as your workout of choice, it is a great idea to incorporate a few exercises from either methodology into your warm-up. Dynamic warm-ups allow our bodies to stretch and our joints to loosen before we work them too hard. This prevents injury and allows for more effective stretching at the end of your workout. Don’t start your routine with anything other than a dynamic (active) stretch/warm-up. Your joints, ligaments, and muscles are not ready and you are making yourself vulnerable to injury. take it from someone who has been injured two too many times.
And tell me…
What type of stretching works best for you?