- Increased Range of Motion and Flexibility
- Better Posture
- Decreased Stress Levels
- Enhanced Coordination
- Greater Overall Performance (at work and play)
- Improved Organ and Glandular Function (particularly Thyroid)
- Better Circulation
- Lower Toxicity Levels
- Improved Musculoskeletal Alignment
- Increased Lubrication of Your Joints
- Reduced Pain Levels
- Highly effective (if you don’t see results, you won’t do it)
- Easy to integrate into your routine
- Feel great (so you’ll want to do it at least three times a week.)
A Menu of Stretch Styles and Techniques
Stretching styles are either:
Assisted or Unassisted.
Assisted– (also called Passive Stretching) You get into a position, then use assistance to help you stretch. The assistance could come from any device, your body weight, a stair, a stretch strap, rope, or gravity – even the floor.
Example: Standing on a stair with your heel dropped down. The stair is the outside force assisting your stretch.
Unassisted– (also called Active Stretching) You stretch one muscle by contracting another. This is usually the muscle that works in opposition.
Example: While sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, then contract your muscles (without assistance of any kind) to point your toes to the ceiling, thereby stretching muscles in your calf.
Whether you choose Assisted (passive) vs. Unassisted (active) now you decide if the stretch is Static or Dynamic.
Static- You ease into a stretch position and hold it (typically for 30 to 60 seconds). There is no bouncing or rapid movement. You should feel a mild pulling sensation, but no pain in the belly of the muscle, not in the joints.
Ballistic– You force part of your body beyond its normal range of motion by bouncing into a stretched position. Most experts agree that ballistic stretching can lead to injury and should only be used.
Example: Bouncing toward the floor repeatedly to touch your toes.
Isometric- You ease a muscle into position, then resist the stretch isometrically. (The muscle doesn’t lengthen or shorten appreciably.)
Example: A partner holds your leg up while you press against the resistance, trying to force your leg back down.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)– Combines passive stretching and isometric stretching to achieve maximum improvements in flexibility. You typically have a partner for PNF, although it can be done alone.
In PNF, a muscle is passively stretched then contracted isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position. You and your partner then passively stretch again at the new position resulting from the increased range of motion. PNF was originally developed by physical therapists for rehabilitation purposes.
Example: You lie on the floor, one knee bent, one leg straight and held up by a partner. You press against your partner’s resistance, then relax. You should have a slightly improved ROM. You repeat from this new position of increased ROM.
Variations of this technique include Contract-Relax Stretching and Post Isometric Relaxation (PIR).
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS – or the Mattes Method)– Developed over several decades by Aaron Mattes, MS, RKT, LMT.
AIS follows a simple, but profoundly effective physiological protocol in which you:
a) identify the muscle to be stretched,
b) isolate it to its most relaxed state,
c) contract the antagonist (opposing muscle – as in hamstrings/quadriceps) to force the stretched muscle group to relax,
d) bring the stretch to the end point of range of motion (using a strap or partner),
e) hold for approximately two seconds (to avoid the myotatic reflex which is the muscle’s protection mechanism)
f) inhale back to the starting position,
g) and repeat up to ten times.
The Mattes Method is a highly effective treatment for increasing general flexibility and Range of Motion as well as treating deep and superficial fascial release to restore proper function throughout the body. It has been used by professional athletes and weekend warriors alike to achieve optimal performance and has proven highly effective in the treatment of countless chronic health conditions.
The Great Debate of Stretching: When and How
Although stretching before a workout to prevent injury has long been the gold standard, there has been a great deal of inquiry surrounding this subject in recent years, particularly among runners. (Runners World, Nov. 2005)
Current research suggests that fit people who stretch before they work out might have a higher rate of injury than those who don’t. This is because stretching can stress your muscles and joints, causing microscopic damage to soft tissue.
While that damage ultimately repairs itself with increased mobility, the soft tissue immediately after stretching is under stress. This stress, combined with the additional demands of a heavy workout or game, can theoretically make you more vulnerable to injury.
The second topic of heated debate focuses on what type of stretching athletes should do prior to an event. Many experts now believe that static stretching (easing into a position and holding it for ten seconds or more) shouldn’t be done before a heavy workout or competition because it can decrease your speed, strength and overall performance.
It is known from Doppler Tests that blood flow becomes restricted when passing through tight and restricted tissues. Some experts believe that by as few as five seconds of holding a stretch, the flow of blood and oxygen to the muscle you are targeting slows down, resulting in lactic acid build up that can lead to muscle fatigue on the sport field, hence slowing down the athletes.
Guidelines to Stretch By
Warm up before you stretch and after major activity. Most experts now agree that a dynamic stretch is best prior to your activity (particularly using moves that mimic those you’re about to do) and a full stretch is best done after major activity is over – or as a standalone workout.
Never bounce.Hard bouncing creates micro-tears in your muscles that leave scar tissue which leaves you even tighter. Using momentum of your body to achieve greater range is a cheat that can injure you.
Relax and breathe. If you’re stressed and holding your breath, you won’t achieve increased flexibility because oxygen isn’t flowing properly to your tissues.
Stretch both sides. Admittedly, one side is often tighter than the other and might require a little more work, but both sides should be stretched. And that means right to left as well as front to back, since muscles work in pairs.
Be aware of muscle imbalances and/or pain. While most of us are not equally flexible from one side to the other, severe differences – or extreme issues with normal Range of Motion -- might indicate a skeletal misalignment or other issues.
Take the simple toe touch, for example. For some of us, it’s not so simple, while others of us can flat palm the floor with no trouble. This might be a function of pure genetics, but if a tug or pain is felt in the low back or anywhere else, it could also be a function of a misaligned pelvis, tight adductors, calves, even the soles of the feet could be tight. So most of all…
Strive for gains without pain. That means you should push only to the point of tightness. You must apply yourself to improve flexibility, but pain is not part of the equation.
Above all, stretching should feel good – not like a Medieval Torture.