Top Stretching Methods Reviewed: What’s Right for You?
First of all, there is no one right way to stretch. Different methods of stretching work best for different people with different needs, wants and goals. In order to get the most out of stretching you need to learn what method(s) will work best for what you need.
The purpose of this review is to help you identify that.
What Stretching Method Makes Sense For You?
What’s important for you to realise is that all of the approaches mentioned below are appropriate for different people, and whatever you choose will once again depend on your goals and mindset. The different types of stretching methods explained in this review include: • Static stretching • Dynamic stretching • Loaded progressive stretching • Ballistic stretching • Wushu stretching • PNF stretching techniques
The primary benefits of static stretching are relieving tension and learning to relax in stretching positions. Stretching to relieve tension is apparent when done after long periods of sitting and standing in one place.
Generally, for this purpose, shorter holds of 15-30 seconds for a couple of sets is all that’s needed. Interspersed throughout your work day, this can do a lot to lessen the strain of prolonged periods of inactivity. Obviously, this effect is also very good after exercise sessions as part of a cool down.
Holding a stretch in a static position can cause a temporary decrease in muscle tone, but simply engaging in the practice is helpful alone. By removing the automatic reaction of anxiety and expectation of pain that we can have in certain positions we can make a huge difference in improving our movement patterns. Any hesitations and subconscious apprehensions in our movement can turn into small but noticeable hitches which can hinder the smoothness of our actions.
• Defining Characteristics: Get into a stretched position and hold for a time • Best Uses: Good for short holds after an exercise session or to offset inactivity. • Cautions: Longer holds can be uncomfortable, so start with shorter hold times and then increase to longer holds as you learn to relax into it
Dynamic simply means being in motion, taking your various body parts through their respective ranges. This term applies to any stretching techniques that involve motion.
Use it or lose it! If you’re not taking your body parts through their various range of motions regularly then it will lose that range of motion or the motor control needed for your body to control movement throughout the range.
• Defining Characteristics: Move in and out of a stretched position • Best Uses: Good for anyone looking to improve flexibility • Cautions: Be cautious of speed of movement when not “warmed up”
Loaded Progressive Stretching
These techniques add an additional load into simple positions. This technique is appealing because of its simplicity: • Can’t touch your toes? Hold some hand weights in your hands or have someone push on you. That’s the “loading” part. • Add some more weight or have your partner push on your harder, and that’s the “progressive” portion.
Does it work? Yes. Is it necessary? That depends. All good stretching is loaded and progressive. You don’t necessarily need weight to “load” your tissues. Rather, you can change the position and angles in a variety of ways to target where you like.
The “secret” is in your choice of body position and applying the correct force and stress to the areas that require it the most. Rather than using a weight or other external force, it just takes creativity and mindfulness. But of course, if you don’t want to bother with that, you can load yourself up with weights and stretch that way. Remember, whatever works best for you is key.
• Defining Characteristics: Add load onto a stretched position • Best Uses: Can be a good way to go deeper into a stretch, but only if you’re well-conditioned for that. • Cautions: If you can’t get into a position without additional load, it can be too big of a strain on the body to add weight onto that position.
Ballistic stretching involves using a fast motion to get into certain ranges of motion. The theory is that, using these rapid motions, you can take your muscles past the point that can be achieved through active control or lighter force passive stretching.
As most have experienced, there is a stretch-reflex muscle contraction that occurs as a proactive mechanism that prevents you from stretching beyond a certain point. The fast speeds of ballistic stretching can overcome that resistance.
This may be applicable in sports and activities that require fast actions into and out of certain body positions, including ball sports where quick and sudden extensions of your body may be needed to keep the ball in play, for example tennis.
Though it’s not as harmful as some might say, especially when you have the required strength and familiarity with the movements, it is definitely more stressful than other stretching methods and you have to be conscious about the volume, force, and amplitude you choose.
Again, this type of stretching may not be a requisite for every person’s daily needs, so you will have to take a look at your particular needs for your chosen sport or activity, and judge whether it’s worthwhile for you.
• Defining Characteristics: Dynamic stretching in rapid motion • Best Uses: Good for sports that require quick extensions of the body. • Cautions: The fast motions can be stressful to the body if done with too much force.
Based on fundamental martial arts stance training, which requires specific body positioning for correct form. The ability to attain and hold these positions was deemed essential for best performance of the various fighting techniques and sequences.
If you are participating in martial arts, this may be for you. We obviously don’t all have to move like a wushu performer, so why train exactly like one?
• Defining Characteristics: Specific stances held for long times • Best Uses: Designed for Wushu practicioners, and best for those people • Cautions: Intense stretching that is likely not applicable to you unless you practice martial arts.
PNF Stretching Techniques
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) was developed as a treatment system for neurologically impaired patients and then also applied to orthopedic conditions. The commonly used PNF “Contract-Relax” method is more of an umbrella term for three different techniques: • Hold Relax technique consists of an isometric (non-moving) contraction at the stretching position, followed by a period of relaxation. So there is a force applied against the muscle for a period of time, then a relaxation, followed by an attempt to move further in the range of motion. • Contract Relax is distinguished from hold relax in that the muscle contraction is concentric (moving). Here, the repetitions in and out of the stretched position make this more similar to a dynamic stretch as described above. • Eccentric Relax is when the stretched muscle is contracting against an overcoming force that moves it into an even further stretched position.
• Defining Characteristics: Contraction followed by period of stretching in a relaxed position • Best Uses: Good way to improve flexibility and range of motion • Cautions: Some PNF methods can be overdone if the force is excessive
If you want to get more flexible than any of the methods above can work. But, as you’ve seen, some methods are going to work better than others for most people. Stretching, like all exercise training, should be specific to your wants, needs and goals. If it’s just to alleviate stiffness from inactivity then light static stretching throughout the day may be more appropriate for you. On the other hand, if you want to improve your flexibility and play sports which involve quick movements through different range of motions, then you may want to consider other forms of stretching as well.
For more information on a stretching routine best suited for you please click here or book in today for a free initial consultation at Infinite Health Chatswood - Physiotherapy, Exercise Physiology & Massage Therapy to start your flexibility program today!