Login | April 23, 2019

Stretching Part 3

Pete’s World

Published: October 29, 2018

In today’s column I’ll finish up this three-part stretching series with the how’s of stretching. And to do that we’ll first need to recognize the fact that there are seven somewhat different variations of stretching - yes seven - which include active static, passive static, dynamic, ballistic, active isolated, myofascial release and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation).

Now each variation has its own particular set of parameters, so once you discern these variables you can determine which method is appropriate for your needs.

1) Active static stretching, the most common and the most often utilized variation, involves stretching a muscle/muscle group to the point of maximal comfortable tension by applying your own pressure. A good example of this variation would be the seated hamstring stretch, where with legs extended, one attempts to touch toes with fingers.

2) Passive static stretching is a variation performed with partner, resistance bands, or machines to obtain the stretching tension. Again, the stretch is held comfortably until you feel the muscle/group relaxing.

3) Dynamic stretching is more of a sport-specific stretch that’s designed to mimic the movement patterns of a particular sporting activity. A great example of this would be when a runner performs long, slow strides, exaggerating each stride to maximize the stretching effect.

4) Ballistic stretching utilizes repetitive bouncing movements. Now despite the fact that this kind of stretching is frowned upon, if it’s both performed after static stretching and under proper supervision, it can be utilized as a warm-up for high impact activities.

5) Active isolated stretching is somewhat akin to resistance training in that it’s done via sets, reps and increased levels of tension. As such, each set would include reps that are held at increasingly higher levels of tension.

6) Myofascial release involves foam rolling muscles and fascia so that the applied pressure initiates a deep tissue massage.

7) Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is a form of stretching that uses an isometric contraction prior to the stretch, which subsequently allows a greater ROM when the muscle is stretched. PNF stretches are typically performed in a clinical environment under the auspices of a PT or sports med professional.

Okay, so out of this eclectic array of stretching variations, most of us would want to narrow our choices down to just three: active static, passive static and dynamic.

So let’s start with active static, which when you think stretching, is usually the variation that immediately comes to mind. Active static stretches are held for X amount of seconds for X amounts of sets, and are perfect for general fitness as well as sport-specific purposes.

The selection, intensity and duration of active static stretches vary, depending more or less on the participant’s objectives and ability level. A great reference detailing active static stretches is the Bob Anderson publication, Stretching. It contains general as well as sports-specific active static stretch routines…and it’s a valuable guide I’ve been utilizing for decades.

A passive static stretch is a stretch you hold by using some other part of your body, a partner, gravity or an apparatus such as a band, to provide an external force. Think of passive stretching as you being stretched as opposed to you stretching. I do some passive static stretching, particularly a supine hamstring stretch where it’s much easier to use an elastic band to create the tension as opposed to holding the stretch on my own.

Dynamic Stretching is best suited for athletes due to the fact that it relies on controlled movements to create the stretching tension. And this is its primary attribute because the stretching movements closely mimic the actual movements of the activity or sport.

Other attributes of dynamic stretching include increase blood flow, improved range of motion, and the participant’s neuromuscular awareness of joint position (proprioception), all reasons why this stretching variation is used so extensively in the NFL and NBA.

Now this variation of stretching can be dangerous if performed incorrectly, and that usually occurs with novices who sometimes push the stretches too intensely or too speedily.

Whatever stretching variation you end up choosing, understand that this choice should take into account your ability level and the primary movements you utilize in your daily life and/or in your recreational activities.

Finally, make that stretching choice an important component of your overall fitness routine - and treat it as an equal to the aerobic and strength training components. It’s really that consequential.