In this post I’ll be looking at why we stretch, what we are trying to achieve and if we are going about it the right way.
I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to you that there is more than one way to stretch, however you may be surprised to find out that generally it is classified into seven, yes, seven, different ways to stretch (for the list and explanation check it out here). I’ll be focusing on the most commonly discussed and used which are static/passive and active/dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is the most common type of stretching people do, you stretch to a position and hold it. With passive stretching you are using another body part or a piece of equipment to stretch (theraband) whereas static doesn’t.
Active stretching is where we use the strength of other muscles to facilitate the stretch, many of the moves seen in yoga are active stretches. Dynamic stretching uses gradual and controlled increases in movement and in speed to stretch, for example arm swinging.
Why do we stretch?
The primary aim of stretching is to increase the functional range of motion. This is the useful movement that we have in a joint. A lot of people also do stretches before exercise. There has been a growing body of research that shows this may be detrimental to us if performed before exercise. It has shown to result in:
– A possible increased risk of injury.
– Less stability whilst performing exercises.
– A decrease in muscle strength/output.
The last two points about stability and decrease in muscle strength are really important and interesting to me. Those that have been to see me will know that my favourite words are structure and co-ordination.
Exercise and balance go hand and hand, one without the other makes it extremely hard to perform well. When you add muscles that are unable to work to their maximum potential it is easy to see how it can result in accumulative strain and eventually secondary conditions (muscle spasm/tears, neck pain etc.).
So before exercise we should be aiming to warm up: increase the heart output and almost pre warn the muscles that they are going to be called into action. If you are going out for a cycle don’t burst straight into your full stride or save that hill for later – not always easy in Sheffield. Walk for a few minutes before running and throw in a few lunges or hip rotations. After exercise is the time that we should be doing static stretching (or indeed PNF which I’ll cover another time).