After my usual week of daily cardio/resistance workouts and leading multiple spinning classes, my Friday workout is always a 10 minute warm up followed by a full body stretch routine. Stretching is an exercise that is often overlooked or done as quickly as possible at the end of a workout without seemingly any focus or thought as to what the stretcher is trying to achieve.
If you read the literature you will see that there are different form of stretching – here’s a read out of the different types from Livestrong:
Static stretching, the kind a fitness instructor leads at the end of a class, involves stretching a body part to its farthest position and then holding it for 30 seconds or more. It does not involve bouncing or rapid movements, just a mild, painless pulling sensation. You feel the stretch through the entire length and centre of the muscle and not in the joints.
Passive stretching is similar to static stretching, except that an apparatus or partner provides the force to stretch the muscle. For example, you may stand with your back against a wall while your exercise partner lifts your leg to stretch the hamstring. Passive stretching relieves muscle spasms and helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after a workout.
Dynamic stretching involves controlled swinging of the arms and legs that gently takes them to the limits of their range of motion. Here, parts of the body are moved with gradually increasing speed, reach or both.
Ballistic stretching forces a body part to go beyond its normal range of motion by making it bounce to a stretched position. It increases range of motion and triggers the muscle’s stretch reflex. Performing ballistic stretching can make you more susceptible to injury. Only highly conditioned and competent athletes preparing for strenuous activity should employ it.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active isolated stretching is most commonly used by professionals: athletes, trainers, massage therapists and others. To complete at active isolated stretch, you reach a certain position and hold it steady without any assistance other than the strength of your own muscles. Kick a leg up high, for example, and hold it up in that extended posture. Active isolated stretching works with natural physiological processes to increase muscle and fascia elasticity and improve circulation.
In isometric stretching, as a muscle is stretched into position, you resist the stretch. For example, have a partner hold your leg up high while you attempt to force back your leg in the opposite direction. Isometric stretching is the safest and most effective method for increasing the joints’ range of motion, and it strengthens tendons and ligaments while retaining their flexibility.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation combines isometric, static and passive stretching to foster a high level of flexibility. Perform it by passively stretching a muscle; isometrically contracting it against resistance in the stretched position; and passively stretching it through the resulting increased range of motion. It is an advanced form of flexibility training that also helps improve strength.
My recommendation is to use a range of different types of stretches to keep it interesting so that you are actively involved in the exercise and thinking about what you are doing – that way you’ll keep focussed. I start at the top of the body and work my way down slowly and carefully stretching all the major muscle groups to the point of reasonable discomfort without overdoing it. Each passive (see above) stretch is held for 15-30 seconds. After holding for 15 seconds I look to develop the stretch as my stretch receptors stop firing and I can get a bit more length in the muscle and connective tissue. I also use some dynamic stretches to seek to re-establish the flexibility and improve my range of motion in my joints after spending most of the 9-5 working week sitting at a desk. All stretch exercises should be careful, deliberate and thoughtful and taken to a point of discomfort not pain.
But why bother with it? It’s not really exercise is it? It’s just striking a pose. Well no, it is actually exercise and your muscles respond to being stretched in the same was as if they were being contracted through CV or resistance exercises. Your non-insulin dependent glucose uptake by the muscles fires up, GLUT4 transporters move from inside the muscle cell to its membrane and pull the glucose out of your blood into the cell where it is burnt for energy.
Stretching is exercise that will help you regulate your blood sugar, improve your focus, let you think about your body and wind down for the weekend too – s t r e t c h.