The days are getting warmer, the beaches are getting busier and the holidays are just around the corner, summer is officially here!
Though most of us may be looking forward to spending our days sunbathing at the beach, for some this time of year means finally getting our bodies back on track starting with early morning workouts, after work bootcamps or perhaps getting back out onto the paddock for some early preseason training.
Whatever you’re doing, getting your body fit and ready for the summer and the coming months can be tough, especially with so many distractions present this time of year.
So, making sure that you’ve gotten yourself into a good stretching routine for your workouts can be a great place to start!
When looking to improve sports or training performance, stretching regularly, knowing when to stretch and which type of stretch to apply can be a simple but effective method for keeping yourself on the pitch and off the treatment tables.
Now most of us have probably been told at some point in time by our coaches, parents or physiotherapists, to sit down reach forward and hold for an indeterminate amount of time, usually 30 to 60 seconds, to stretch out a muscle group and then transition to a different position then rinse and repeat.
Though not necessarily wrong, dependent upon the activities that you may be engaging in, the timing of your stretches and the type of stretching you perform may influence your overall performance and your risk of injury.
Multiple stretching techniques exist and a few of the common techniques that we come across are static (passive) stretching, dynamic (active) stretching, ballistic stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or PNF stretching for short.
Probably the most familiar technique to us all, static stretching involves passively lengthening the muscles by taking the tissue as far as comfortable, to the end of its range and maintaining that position for a length of time.
This form of stretching is often a great tool for relaxing tense musculature and for improving tissue flexibility and joint mobility.
However, when performed immediately prior to strenuous activity requiring maximal muscle effort, this form of stretching has been shown in some studies to impair performance with strength and coordination based tasks.
As such this form of stretching is best served as a cooldown stretch following physical activity or as a flexibility exercise outside of vigorous activity, as it may help reduce the muscle contracture associated with physical exertion.
Also known as active stretching this technique involves actively stretching the muscles and joints through the performance of a series of controlled movements designed to take the tissues through their full range of motion.
These types stretches are great when used as part of a warm up routine as they have been shown to improve muscle flexibility and joint range of motion whilst maintaining muscle contraction velocity and strength.
It has also been shown to be particularly useful with the performance with agility, balance and coordination based tasks.
For a great example of a quick dynamic stretching warm up check out the link below.
Another variation of a dynamic stretch, this technique utilises quick, active movements or ‘bouncing’ movements to forcibly move a joint and its surrounding tissue to end-range positions and oscillates between sub-maximal and end-range position.
This form of stretching has been shown to assist with improving tendon elasticity and flexibility.
However, it is not highly recommended due to risk of injury associated with improper application due to the high levels force that can be applied to local structures associated with the stretch.
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation)
PNF stretching for short, refers to a series of stretching techniques that combine passive stretching with isometric (contraction of the muscle without movement) or isotonic (contraction of the muscle with movement) contractions of the stretched muscle.
Traditionally used as a rehabilitative exercise for patients with neuromuscular conditions such as those found in stroke, for the everyday person, PNF stretching has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of stretching for improving joint range of motion and muscle flexibility.
There are three different variations of PNF stretches which are the hold-relax, contract-relax and hold-relax-contract stretches.
Hold-relax stretches involve placing the muscle into a stretch position and holding for a few seconds, then isometrically contracting the muscle against stretch for 5-10 seconds and then relaxing the stretch and repeating at a deeper range.
Contract-relax stretches are similar to hold-relax stretches, except instead of isometrically contracting the muscle, the muscle is contracted whilst moving through range. For example, in a hamstring stretch, contracting the hamstring against light resistance as the leg returns to the floor.
Hold-relax-contract stretches again are similar to hold-relax stretches, except instead of relaxing into a passive stretch, the stretch is brought on by actively pushing further into the stretch. For example, in a hamstring stretch, activating the quads and hip flexors to pull the hip further into flexion to increase the stretch on the hamstring group.
Similar to static stretching, PNF stretches have also been shown to reduce strength and power when done prior to high intensity exercises such as sprinting, though conversely have been shown to improve function with sub-maximal exercise such as jogging.
For any other questions regarding stretching or formulating a proper stretching routine, pop by and chat to your local physio to see how we could help you with improving your exercise regime.
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