Stretching is an essential technique that increases your flexibility and workouts, but different stretching methods are better for one over the other. Let’s take a moment to understand the following three stretches and how to implement them properly.
Static stretching is the most common technique where you are holding a stretch at the farthest end of a muscle’s range-of-motion (ROM), usually without movement. This kind of stretching is best done after rigorous workout or activity.
Think of your muscles as a rubber band. If you stretch at the farthest end of a muscle’s ROM, you’re asking the muscle to loosen up and relax, thus creating a lack of power or force in explosive or strength moves. This decreased muscular strength can place joints at a higher risk of injury and reduce the body’s ability to stabilize and control motion, which can lead to tears and sprains of ligaments and strains of muscles. Therefore, it is not recommended before a workout.
Instead, static stretching after a workout is recommended. In fact, don’t ever want to skip on stretching after a workout as it can help you limber up and move with more comfort and ease throughout the day.
Static stretching can also be done if you’ve sat at the desk for too long, feeling high levels of stress or after a long, laborious workday.
In contrast to static stretching, dynamic stretching involves active movements that help get your muscles warm-up; therefore, it is best done before an exercise.
Research has been shown that these movements significantly increase the ability of a muscle to produce force and protect the body’s joints during activity and prevent injuries that may have otherwise occurred following a standard static stretching routine. Essentially, you’re warming up your muscles without overstretching.
Dynamic stretching usually mimics the sport, workout, or activity that you plan to perform. For instance, a swimmer may move their arms in circles, and a bicyclist may practice light hip opener exercises before starting.
Incorporate 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretches into the beginning of your workout, such as leg swings, walking lunges with twists, arm circles, or jogging in place.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving flexibility and increasing ROM. As a general understanding, PNF stretching is an advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the holding, stretching, and contracting of the muscle.
Developed by a doctor in the 1940s, PNF stretching was first implemented to treat neuromuscular conditions such as polio and multiple sclerosis. It has since gained popularity with physical therapists and fitness professionals as everyday stretching practices.
PNF stretching is most often done with the help of a trainer or professional. This type of stretching capitalizes on the use of reciprocal inhibition and passive stretching techniques to help further lengthen the muscle beyond its active ROM. Hence, these stretches are best done after a workout or as a standalone exercise.
If you are not familiar with this type of stretching, talk to a professional or trainer so you can perform the moves correctly.
Now that you understand the three different stretching techniques, make sure to practice them properly and never to a point of pain. To recap:
Static stretching should not be performed before an exercise but is useful for increasing flexibility after a workout and decreasing stress (and it feels good!).
Dynamic stretching is best used before a sport or activity as a warm-up.
PNF stretching is best for deliberately increasing ROM in a specific muscle.