Stretching is one of those often overlooked things in exercise, yet it is also one of the most important. Your muscles are the things that keep you moving, they’re the things that are going to keep you mobile into your later years and unless you take care of them, you’ll soon find they’ll start giving you all sorts of problems, increase your chance of injury and heighten the risk of cramping.
Exercising the muscles is the first stage to maintaining them, because it’ll help keep them strong and mobile, but if you want to retain the control, flexibility and range of movement, stretching needs to be done just as regularly. When muscles are exerted, they are being subjected to constant contractions, and over time, these contractions will cause them to shorten. The act of stretching a muscle out will help counteract this. It is important to note that stretching should only be done after the muscle has been warmed up. Muscles exhibit elastic qualities and can actually be quite brittle if cold. Therefore, it is possible to damage a muscle if you try and stretch it before it’s been warmed up. This is why most stretching is done after a work out.
Stretching can be done either after a particular exercise has been completed (if you’re doing sets of weight-bearing exercises) or at the end of a workout, but again it’s important that the muscles are warm before this is done, so if you’re thinking of doing it all at the end, you should remember to warm back up the muscle groups you want to stretch if they haven’t been exerted for more than about 30 minutes.
There are several different ways of stretching muscles, but depending on the muscle group, as well as the function which you require that muscle for, some of those ways can be non-effective or even detrimental. One must be careful when determining which type of stretching is used for which muscle group and what the function of that group might be.
The main types of stretching are as follows:
Ballistic: Requires a ‘bouncing’ of the muscle in order to force the limb past the body’s natural range of movement. It is very important that the muscles are warm for this type of stretch to be used and equally lots of care must be taken so that not too much force is used.
Dynamic: Dynamic stretching involves gradually moving the muscle past the max range of movement with slow controlled movements. It is often confused with ballistic stretching, but involves a lot less force.
Static Stretching: The form of stretching most people are familiar with – simply involves pulling the muscle into a static position and holding it.
PNF stretching – this requires contracting and relaxing the muscle in short periods so that each time, the limb is pushed further and further past its natural range. Advisable to be done with a partner so that more force can be applied each time.