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Stretching
The Different Types

If you're deciding which type of stretching is best for your needs, these are our suggestions.

  • Sports Specific Applications - Ballistic Stretching

  • Available Partner for Guidance and Motivation - PNF Stretching (but not the ballistic version.)

  • Warm Up - Dynamic Stretches

  • Post Workout - Slow Movement and Static Stretches

The Six Basic Types of Stretches

Static Stretching / Active Stretching / Static-Active Stretching - This is the most common form of stretching. You relax the muscle as you elongate or stretch it. Once you reach a point of minimal discomfort, you hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Each time you repeat the movement you're attempting a greater range of motion.

Each stretch should be repeated 3-4 times per session and one session a day.

It's easy, doesn't require a partner and is highly effective.

Passive Stretching / Relaxed Stretching / Static-Passive Stretching - You relax the muscle while it's being elongated or stretched by some external source such as a person or machine. Once you reach a point of minimal discomfort, you hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Each time you repeat the movement you're attempting a greater range of motion.

Each stretch should be repeated 3-4 times per session and one session a day.

Isometric Stretching - In this type of stretch you don't use motion. You "tense" your muscles for 5-20 seconds while resistance is applied to prevent you from moving. That resistance can be provided by a machine, a partner or it might simply be against external objects like a wall. WARNING: Children and adolescents should not attempt isometric stretching. The resistance that is required to prevent you from moving can potentially damage connective tissue and tendons.

Each stretch should be repeated 3-4 times per session and one session a day.

Ballistic Stretching - You bounce or bob once you are in the final stretch position. This type of stretching has been criticized because it can cause DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and damage to connective tissue and tendons. It is important only for some sports specific warm-ups and training, but is not recommended for general fitness programs.

Dynamic Stretching - In the stretch you gradually increase the speed you move, your reach or both. You don't hold the stretch, so you typically do this stretch in sets of 8-12 repetitions.

Slow Movement Stretching - The joints being stretched are engaged in continuous slow movements. Typical stretches are arm, neck or trunk rotations. It can be used as a warm-up stretch before OTHER stretches, but doesn't appear to significantly increase flexibility or joint range of motion.

PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) Stretching - This is a combination of passive and isometric stretching and most variations require a partner. Essentially you stretch one muscle and it pulls another. (In gymspeak it's a voluntary contraction of the muscles to bring reciprocal inhibition of the antagonistic muscle.) Typically you repeat the process 3 times for each muscle stretched.

Children and adolescents should not attempt PNF stretching. The resistance that is required to prevent them from moving can potentially damage connective tissue and tendons.

Versions of PNF Stretching

Slow-Reversal-Hold - It works by having you stretch until you reach a point of slight discomfort. Then for about 10 seconds you have a partner that puts force on the muscle being stretched as you push against that force. Stop, relax the muscle and your partner stretches it even further for another 30 seconds. Then you relax everything, return to the starting position and after 10 - 20 seconds do it all again.

Hold-Relax-Contract, Contract-Relax-Contract or Contract-Relax-Antagonist-Contract - You engage in a passive stretch and contract the muscle isometrically for 7-15 seconds. Then for another 7-15 seconds you have a partner that puts force on the muscle and you isometrically contract it again. Relax everything, return to the starting position and after 10 - 20 seconds do it all again.

Hold-Relax or Contract-Relax - You engage in a passive stretch and contract the muscle isometrically for 7-15 seconds. Relax for 2-3 seconds. Then for another 10-15 seconds you have a partner that puts force on the muscle stretching you further than the first stretch. Relax everything, return to the starting position and after 10 - 20 seconds do it all again.

Hold-Relax-Swing or Hold-Relax-Bounce - You engage in a passive stretch and contract the muscle isometrically for 7-15 seconds. Relax for 2-3 seconds. Then for another 10-15 seconds you engage in a dynamic (gradually increasing) or ballistic (bouncing) stretch. Relax everything, return to the starting position and after 10 - 20 seconds do it all again. This can be dangerous and is NOT recommended for a general fitness program.

Tips for Safer Stretching

  1. Before performing any stretches you should warm up for 8-10 minutes with some sort of rhythmic movement. Jog, power walk or ride a bike. You're trying to raise your blood flow, heart rate and the temperature of your muscles. Stretching a cold muscle can lead to injury. (The exception is if you're doing dynamic stretching because it is considered a warm up.)

  2. Each stretching session should be 5 to 15 minutes, at least three times a week to build and maintain flexibility.

  3. You can stretch until there is mild discomfort, but never until you feel pain. If it hurts, stop.

  4. Breathe normally when you stretch, don't hold your breath.

For more details on specific stretches, Click Here to visit the STRETCHES section of the WeBeFit website.

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1/9/2006