Other Ways to Stretch

The main method of stretching that has been discussed and encouraged so far in this campaign is static stretching. But there are other techniques and approaches to stretching that exist and each of them has different benefits and negatives. Some of the most popular and well researched are:

  • Dynamic Stretching
  • Yoga
  • PNF Stretching

These will be discussed in detail below. Other stretching techniques not addressed in this blog that might interest you include isometric stretching, self-myofascial release (foam roller), pilates and active stretching. You can find more on these types of stretching here or here.

Dynamic Stretching

–           Pro:     Best for warming up before sport
–           Con:     Not as effective for increasing flexibility

Dynamic stretching is the extending and loosening of muscles and tendons through movement. Recent studies have proven that traditional static stretching can actually reduce the potential power and force of muscles in the 30 minutes after a stretching session. While static stretching is great for increasing flexibility, dynamic stretching is what you should be doing before exercise or workouts. Its purpose is to warm-up muscles, increase power and achieve greater range of motion, which means that dynamic stretching is a crucial part of a well-rounded warm up routine.

Merv Hughes was a big advocate of dynamic stretching. Here he leads the crowd in some side bends.
Merv Hughes was a big advocate of dynamic stretching. Here he leads the crowd in some side bends.

Dynamic stretching is most effective when it is adapted specifically for whatever sport you are about to play. For example, a great dynamic stretch for AFL or soccer players is the leg swing. This dynamic stretch will loosen the muscles that will be used most throughout the game, will increase range of motion for the leg and will in turn increase kicking distance and decrease risk of injury.

A list of 7 different dynamic stretches that warm up each main muscle group of the body can be found here.

While dynamic stretching is good for warm-ups before sport and exercise, it should not replace static stretching because it is not as effective for increasing flexibility. A good flexibility program should incorporate both!

Yoga

 –           Pro:     A more well-rounded form of exercise
–          
Con:     Not as effective for increasing flexibility

Yoga is an ancient practice or discipline that connects the body, mind and spirit. It has been practiced and taught for many centuries and exists in many different forms, or schools, such as Raja, Tantra and Hatha. The latter, Hatha, is the type of yoga that has gained popularity in the Western world since the 1980’s and is what most people think of when they hear the word yoga.

In Hinduism, Shiva is the God of Yoga. Source: The Elements of Hinduism - By Stephen Cross p. 77
In Hinduism, Shiva is the God of Yoga.
Source: The Elements of Hinduism – By Stephen Cross p. 77

By regularly committing to yoga classes – which involve the repetition, refinement and advancement of different yoga poses – you can gain core strength, improve balance, recover from injury faster, have a serious work out and also improve flexibility. If you’re biggest goal is improved flexibility however, static stretching is still the most efficient way. But the big benefit of yoga is that it is a much more holistic and well-rounded form of exercise and meditation that often, but not always, involves the stretching of muscles and joints.

Photo Credit: Sami Taipale via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Sami Taipale via Compfight cc

If you want to find out more about Yoga you should follow @TheYogaJournal

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

 –           Pro:     Most effective way to increase range of motion
 –           Con:     Requires a partner or rope and can be dangerous

PNF stretching is a stretching technique that combines passive or active stretching and muscle tension. There are different methods of PNF stretching but the basic goal is muscular inhibition. Studies have proven that by stretching a muscle, then tensing or engaging it and then relaxing and stretching it again, muscular inhibition will occur and greater range of motion will be available.

PNF stretching usually requires a partner. Hamstring stretches can also be done with a rope or large rubber band.
PNF stretching usually requires a partner. Hamstring stretches can also be done with a rope or large rubber band.

This can be a hard concept to understand without an example, so I encourage you to get someone to help you try this hamstring PNF stretch:

  • Start by making sure you are warmed up, attempting these stretches cold can cause injury.
  • Lie on your back with one leg laying flat on the ground, the other straight in the air as close to a right angle as you can manage.
  • Get your partner to keep your leg straight and to push it towards you until you reach a point of mild discomfort. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds.
  • Push your leg against your partner so that your hamstrings are tensed. Your partner should offer enough resistance to keep your leg in a static position. Hold this for 5-10 seconds.
  • Relax your muscles and have your partner slowly push your leg towards you again until you feel mild discomfort. Due to muscular inhibition your leg should be able to stretch further than before.

PNF stretching is great for increasing range of motion quickly. However, it often requires a partner (except for some stretches which can be down with a rope), which makes it much less easy than static stretching. It can also be dangerous if your partner isn’t paying attention and accidentally stretches you too far. If you are going to do PNF stretches make sure it is with someone who knows what they are doing. Otherwise, just stick to static stretching. And as always, remember to smile 🙂

M

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