Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Beginner's Guide To The Seven Types of Stretching

Courtesy of Tallia22 at stock.xchng
So, in my last post on stretching I discussed whether you should do it at all, and mentioned two general types of stretching: dynamic and static.

If that was all new to you, then you are really going to get a kick out of today's post. 

Today I'm going to show you all seven of the different types of stretches. Yup, seven.

And you were excited that you even remembered to do any stretching at all after a job, weren't you? Well just think how much you can show off at the gym after reading this?

Dynamic and Static are still the two most common forms.  However, all together we have:

    1.    ballistic stretching
    2.    dynamic stretching
    3.    active stretching
    4.    passive (or relaxed) stretching
    5.    static stretching
    6.    isometric stretching
    7.    PNF stretching

Who knew there were so many types, huh? (Well, obviously lots of people, and now you are one of them.)

I'm going to go through each one, give a brief description and example and then look at the benefits and risks associated. Remember, these are the types that exist, not all are beneficial for all people.

1.    ballistic stretching

This uses the momentum of the body to force the muscles to stretch beyond the normal range of motion. You will know this as bouncing in the stretch. It used to be quite popular, in the 70s. The general thought behind it was like trying to loosen a rubber band or balloon, you stretch it out really quickly and the fibers sort of loosen. Well, turns out that our bodies are not quite the same as dead rubber bands.

A lot of problems have been identified, such as it actually causes the muscles to tighten up, and is very likely to lead to damage. So this one is not recommend at all. There are many, many better ways to stretch. So, don’t bounce people, don’t bounce.

2.    dynamic stretching
While ballistic stretching aims to go beyond the normal range of motion, dynamic stretching stays within you current range, gradually increasing reach and/or speed of movement. It should not be bouncy or jerky, it should be slow and controlled. I discussed and gave an example of dynamic stretching, such as slowly swinging your leg, trying to go a bit higher each time, to warm up your hamstrings before exercise.

This is recognised as one of the best (possibly only beneficial) ways of warming up before doing a work out. Try to increase the range of motion on all major muscles groups that you will be using during the session. You should be looking at sets of 8-12 reps. 
It is also a great way to start the day, if you tend to get up from bed a bit tight and sore. Taking time to work from your head down will loosen everything up and get the blood flowing.

3.    active stretching
For total confusion, this is also referred to as static-active stretching (or active isolated stretching).

The aim is to hold the stretch using no support but the muscles opposite to the one you are stretching. For example, you might lift your leg to stretch your hamstring, and work your quads to hold it in position, keeping the leg kicked above your head (if you can reach that high).

The benefits of this are that it increases the flexibility in the hamstring which can relax into the stretch, while also strengthening the quad muscle.

However, this type of stretching is really hard to do, and usually can only be held for around 10 seconds.

When would you use this time of stretching? It's most common use is in some of the more active forms of yoga, where you are building strength and flexibility at the same time.
4.    passive (or relaxed) stretching
So this is called passive stretching, or relaxed stretching, or even static-passive stretching. This is often confused with static stretching (next point), however is slightly different. In this type of stretching a partner or a piece of equipment is used to stretch the muscle while you try to relax it.

It's biggest advantage is when you are having muscle cramps.
More often you would use static stretching, but if you have a spare partner lying around, why not give it a go (if you trust them not to push it too far. You are not trying to hurt yourself).
5.    static stretching
Static stretching, compared to passive stretching, involves stretching to the farthest point and then holding the stretch. This is one of the most common types of stretches. When you reach down to touch your toes and hold it, that’s static stretching. This should be challenging, but comfortable.

This is generally considered a safe and effective way to improve flexibility. It might not be as beneficial as some of the more advanced types, but you are much less likely to injury yourself.

For beginners, I recommend you try doing static stretching for a few weeks after your work outs before going onto more advanced types. But please remember, you should only do static stretching when your muscles are already warmed up. It is not a good form to try before your work out. Stick with dynamic for that.

6.    isometric stretching
This is a type of static stretching, which involves ‘isometric contractions’ of the stretched muscle (eg. tensing the stretched muscle.) It is faster than either passive or active stretching by themselves for increasing static flexibility.

It also increases strength, and can be less painful than other types of stretching (not that stretching should be painful!)

An example of this type of stretching would be using a partner to stretch out your hamstring as you try to push the leg back down to the floor.

Though, please note that this is not recommended for anyone whose bones are still growing, and for everyone it is best to do some strength training for the muscle before being stretched.

Finally, this type of stretching is not meant to be performed everyday. Try to rest for at least 24-26 hours between sessions. 

Method: get into static stretch position. Tense muscle for 7-15 seconds, relax for 20 seconds.

7.    PNF stretching
I actually heard about this for the first time on the health retreat I went on, and was pretty excited to tell you about it. Though, to be honest, I thought it was just another name for isometric stretching.

PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

It is a combination of passive stretching and isometic stretching to achieve maximum static flexibility (so I wasn’t completely wrong!)

Basically, you do a passive stretch, then an isometric stretch, and then do another passive stretch trying to get further than before.

Generally recommendation: use PNF techniques 3-5 times for a given muscle group, resting 20 second in between each. (Though there are debates if this is necessary).

The combination of the passive and isometric stretching makes this the most effective type of stretching. However, if you are unused to it, practice adding in an isometric stretch just once a week to your normal stretching routine, and build up to doing PNF stretching sessions once you get the hang of it.

And with all stretching, remember what I said last time: frequency is more important than duration.
One mega long stretch session a week is not going to get your flexible as fast as doing a series of short sessions through the week.

Really need to get your flexibility up quickly? Try a combination of dynamic stretching in the morning, static stretching after lunch, and alternative static and PNF in the evening. 3 times a day will get you there much faster than you think.

So good luck, hope to see you touching your toes soon!

1 comment:

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