Although research shows flexibility training has many benefits, people often neglect this aspect of fitness. Yes, me included! Yet, the more I learn about the benefits the more I realize stretching is well worth the small amount of effort it requires. There are many kinds of stretches thought to help improve flexibility such as:
- ballistic stretching
- dynamic stretching
- active stretching
- passive stretching
- static stretching
- isometric stretching
- proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching
Benefits of stretching include:
- Increase joint range of motion(ROM).
- Relieve muscle tightness and stiffness.
- Improve postural imbalances and help to reduce chronic back pain.
- Increase localized blood flow to the muscles being stretched.
- Possibly relieve muscle soreness after intense physical activity and help to reduce the severity of DOMS (delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).
After learning about the benefits I wanted to know how long to stretch for and when. I focused specifically on static stretching. Static stretching consists of stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position. Research showed that the greatest change in ROM with a static stretch occurs between holding each stretch 15 and 30 seconds. (1, 2) So, I’ve made it a goal to hold my stretches for 25 seconds at a time.
Research shows the best time to perform static stretches is after your resistance-training workouts when the body and muscles are warm. Interestingly enough, static stretching as part of a warm-up immediately prior to exercise has been shown “detrimental to dynamometer-measured muscle strength and performance in running and jumping.”(3-22)
Key points for flexibility training:
- Mix it up! From PNF with a partner to static stretching in mind-body modalities like yoga, mixing up your approach to flexibility will not only offer improvement in range of motion around the joints, it will also keep things more enjoyable and exciting
- Don’t make it stretching painful. If you’re anything like me you want to feel challenged. However in stretching, there’s a big difference between slight discomfort and extreme pain. When performing static stretching, make it a point to stretch only to the point of feeling mild tightness or slight discomfort to ensure the greatest level of safety and effectiveness.
- Stretch multiple areas. Flexibility training is joint specific, meaning there’s not one specific stretch that will improve your overall flexibility. If only, right? Instead, incorporate a variety of different movements and stretching techniques into your training to target the major muscle tendon units such as: neck, chest, shoulder girdle, trunk, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles.
There are a few circumstances where you might need to approach stretching with caution. They include(23):
- a fracture site that is healing
- acute soft tissue injury
- post-surgical conditions
- joint hypermobility
- an area of infection
- a hematoma or other indication of traua
- pain in the affected area
- presence of osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis
- joint swelling from trauma or disease
If a client presents with any type of contraindication, the patient should get further clearance form a doctor.
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- Bandy WD, Irion JM. The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles. Phys Ther. Sep 1994;74(9):845–850; discussion 850–842
- Herda TJ, Cramer JT, Ryan ED, McHugh MP, Stout JR. Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscle. J Strength Cond Res. May 2008;22(3):809–817
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- ACE Personal Trainer Manual 5th Edition