The Importance of Stretching

The following is a guest post by Stephanie Holtman.

woman-stretching-her-sidesStretching is an integral part of training, and should be as routine as the workout itself. However, it is often overlooked or under-appreciated. Depending on the type of training you do, it can be crucial to improvement as well as necessary to prevent injury. Hopefully you all have a stretching routine in place, but if not I’m here to help fix that! First, a breakdown of the basic types of stretching, including why each are important and when you should perform them.

There are four main types of stretches: Static, Active, Dynamic and Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (which also includes contract relax and contract relax agonist contract. There are three other types of stretching, known as: Ballistic, Micro-stretching and Fast stretching.

Each stretch is designed to lengthen and strengthen muscles in their own way, thus increasing flexibility and strength efficiently.

I think we’re all familiar with a static stretch: sit down with your legs straight in front of you and touch your toes. Pretty straightforward. This type of stretch can be applied to a variety of muscles, be they hamstrings, quads, triceps, biceps, etc. You should try to hold a middle- to high-intensity stretch like this for 10-15 seconds. This means that on a scale of 1-10, 10 being your muscles are stretched so far they’ve begun to shake (which is not good and doesn’t actually stretch them, it is a response by your muscles that they’re trying to contract), you should aim for about an 8.

Active-isolated-stretchAn active stretch is also a familiar one: it involves contracting certain muscles to allow their opposites to stretch. Think of it like flexing your feet and feeling the stretch in your calves. This type of stretch isn’t going to land you in the splits someday, but it is very effective at increasing muscular control and stability. example PHOTO:

Dynamic stretching is one that is often misrepresented. When I think of dynamic stretches zombie walks come to mind, but in reality that type of full-range, quick motion is not the aim here. Instead try for a slower, more controlled movement. Think big, slow arm circles or a slow ass-to-grass squat. Even better example: walking lunges!

Now the tough one: proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Try saying that 5 times fast. This encompasses two interrelated sub-groups of stretches, the contract-relax and the contract-relax-agonist-contract. The easiest way I can describe this is like flexing certain muscles without moving. Try contracting your hamstrings and holding this stretch for about 10 seconds. This is the contract-relax phase, and it basically gets your nerves and muscles to start working together to prevent injury later. The next phase of this stretch involves performing the first part, then contracting the opposite muscle in order to stretch the first. After contracting the hamstrings, contract the quadriceps so as to lengthen and relax the hamstrings. Definitely a lesser-known stretch, but it is also effective for building stability and control.

The three other types of stretching are variations on the previous five, but they’re still worth mentioning. The first, ballistic stretching, is one I’m sure we’re all familiar with. This is where those zombie walks fit in. It’s all about range of motion for this stretch, and as much of it as possible. You’ve seen swimmers like Michael Phelps swinging their arms around just before jumping in the pool; they’re performing ballistic stretches as a way to tell their muscles how big of a motion they should be executing. This one can get a little tricky, though: don’t start out your first day expecting to be able to kick your leg up to your head or swing your arms all over the place. It needs to be introduced gradually, through dynamic stretching first.

microSTRETCH4-2Micro-stretching and fast stretching are related, yet vary slightly in execution. Micro-stretching is a type of static stretch that focuses on relaxing the muscle being stretched. Doing a standing quad stretch, for example, is not as effective as the micro-stretch version laying down, which isolates the muscle because it no longer has to act as a stabilizer as it does when you’re standing. Fast stretching is also a form of static stretching, though at a lower intensity. As traditional static stretching should take place at an 8/10 intensity, fast stretching should occur at about a 3/10 for 10-15 seconds.

All of these are important components to well-rounded stretching routines, but they should be performed at different times relevant to your workout in order to be as effective as possible. Static, active, and dynamic stretching should be utilized before a workout, while ballistic can take place during the workout if you’re performing a movement that uses it. Basically slow movement before is your best bet for preventing injury and warming up. Immediately after a workout is the best time to try the proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation movement and fast stretching, in order to cool down muscles faster without introducing too broad a range of motion to them. Though it’s often believed that after a workout is the best time to increase flexibility and range of motion, muscles are usually too warm and elastic, and won’t really retain stretching of any great intensity at that time. Then later on (think right before bed), it’s best to do some micro-stretching to prevent the muscles from getting too tight post-workout.

Obviously performing all these types of stretches before and after a workout is a little ambitious, but it’s important to make sure you’re at least stretching before and after your workout, and preferably a few hours later too to keep your muscles loose. Any type of stretching is going to help improve your workouts, but hopefully now you have a better understanding of what you should be doing and when.

Do you have a regular stretching routine? What do you find most effective in warmups and cool-downs? Comment below.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Stephanie Holtman

As this is my first article for Caveman College, here’s a little about myself! I’m Steph, a junior studying Spanish Interpretation at University of Nebraska-Kearney (for the record, we’re not the Huskers). I started following a paleo lifestyle about a year ago, and I feel pretty awesome about it. It’s helped me accomplish my fitness goals in preparation for becoming an Officer in the Navy, and has allowed me the opportunity to reach out to other people and aid them in their diet and fitness journeys. I’ve also become an avid CrossFitter in the process, and am no longer afraid of my dorm’s kitchen. Some of my friends still think I’m a little strange for not wanting pizza every weekend during a movie/video game marathon, but I know I can outplay all of them in Ultimate Frisbee any day, and that’s worth it to me 🙂

About The Author

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As a recent recent high school graduate, I've seen a lot of kids struggling with health and fitness over my years in school. I went Primal when my physical trainer helped me really focus on my physical well-being in training for my baseball career. I credit a large percentage of my health and well being on and off the baseball field to my Primal lifestyle. An idea came to the my mind to create a website where kids going into college could find great information on health and nutrition as well as functional fitness. I am extremely excited to be able to write about health in the college world, as a lot of times kids forget how to eat healthy when they go off to the college world. While we saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the college world, we also wanted this site to be a resource for people of all ages struggling with their health as a place for them to go and find great resources and information. Feel free to email me or Max at cavemancollege@gmail.com with any questions you may have. Email Josh at joshsinger11@gmail.com.

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