Although an important part of healthy lifestyle, stretching is often one of the more neglected part of a person’s fitness routine. Stretching, when done properly, can increase flexibility, range of motion, improve athletic performance, and help alleviate muscle soreness.
This is the most common type of stretching that people are aware of. Static stretching consists of holding the stretch at a position where you feel that your muscle is being pulled, but not to the point of pain.
NOTE: Static stretching should be done after you have completed your workout, and not before. Recent research has found that static stretching before you workout can actually hinder your performance. Stretching a ‘cold’ muscle can actually cause the muscle to tighten, and lead to injury. Also, research has found that static stretching before a workout does not decrease the chance of an injury, such as a pulled muscle, during activity itself.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF is a relatively new form of stretching that combines static stretching with intervals of muscle contraction. This method of stretching is extremely effective and produces great results. For best results, you’ll need a partner. PNF works in stages. For example, to use PNF to stretch your hamstring you would do the following:
• Lie on your back with your knees bent, extend one leg until it is straight, then lift your leg and have your partner hold it until you find a gentle stretch in the hamstring and hold for 10 seconds.
• On command, you will contract your hamstring by pressing against your partner’s hand. Your partner should use just enough force for your leg to remain static. Hold this position for 6 seconds.
• Now: relax and stop pressing against your partner’s hand. With a relaxed leg, let your partner stretch you again. Now you should be able to stretch further than before. Hold this new position for 30 seconds.
This is just one type of PNF stretching. For more examples and detailed information, see www.pnfstretching.com
Self Myofascial Release (SMR), or foam roller stretching
This is another relatively new technique to come into use. This type of stretching is done using a foam cylinder upon which the muscle is placed. The aim of this method is to smooth the muscle and remove the trigger points that build up. Trigger points are areas of muscle defined by being painful to the touch, and often feel though and can be described as a knot within the muscle. However, this method can cause quite a bit of discomfort for those with especially tight muscles but is very helpful.
SMR treats not only the trigger points, but the muscle fascia as well. Fascia is a specialized connective tissue that surrounds muscle, bone and joints in the body. New research suggests that disturbances in the fascia, such as trigger points, can hinder athletic performance. This is where the foam rollers come in. By positioning the muscle to be treated on the foam roller and using your body weight to apply pressure, you can smooth out the knots and painful areas, restoring the fascia to its normal state. SMR is popular among athletes with heavy training loads since they are the most at risk of developing muscle imbalances due to high training volume.
Although yoga isn’t technically a form of stretching, flexibility is certainly one of the main benefits of this practice. Due to its ever-growing popularity, incorporating yoga into your lifestyle is easier than ever. Classes, DVDs and books about yoga are plentiful, allowing you to learn a new skill and increase your flexibility at the same time.