We’ve all been told at one point or another that we need to stretch before doing any type of physical activity or before playing a sport. Most of us have had a coach or trainer tell us, “make sure you stretch and warm-up,” with the intent of preventing injury once we go full speed in our sport or activity, but what does stretch and warm-up really mean? And what kinds of stretches are appropriate for a warm-up?
You may not be aware, but there are different kinds of stretching techniques and they could make a huge difference in your performance depending on when you use them. What are these different kinds of stretching?
Static stretching is holding a stretch at the farthest end of a muscle’s range-of-motion (ROM), usually without movement. Time and time again, research studies have shown that static stretching may actually decrease athletic performance. This has been shown in decreased sprint times, decreased plyometric jumping height, decreased agility, and decreased force-production in both male and female athletes. Most researchers now believe that static stretching has no direct, long-term harm; however, this form of stretching can temporarily and significantly decrease the muscle’s ability to produce force. This decreased muscular strength can place an athlete’s joints at a higher risk of injury and decrease the body’s ability to stabilize and control motion, which. can lead to tears and sprains of ligaments and strains of muscles.
In contrast to static stretching, dynamic stretching improves mobility while moving through a ROM. It is often done in a manner that imitates the activity or sport that the athlete is about to perform. Dynamic stretching has been shown to significantly increase the ability of a muscle to produce force. Dynamic stretching can also improve muscular performance throughout that muscle’s entire ROM. This effect can protect the body’s joints during activity and actually prevent injuries that may have otherwise occurred following a standard static stretching routine, which are the positive effects that people are usually look for when implementing a stretching program.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching:
What the heck is PNF stretching? PNF stretching is one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving flexibility and increasing ROM. It is an advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle. It is most often done with the help of a trainer or coach. This type of stretching capitalizes on the use of reciprocal inhibition, and passive stretching techniques in order to help further lengthen the muscle beyond its active ROM. PNF stretching was originally developed as a form of rehabilitation, and to that effect, it is very effective. It is also great for targeting specific muscle groups, as well as increasing flexibility, and improving muscular strength.
Each of these stretching techniques serves different purpose-driven goals. To recap:
Static Stretching should not be performed before exercise in any circumstance, but can be useful and effective for increasing ROM post-exercise (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.
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