An Introduction to Stretching

| June 18, 2013 | Reply

A great number of men and women, belonging to various categories of age or physical condition, want to maximize their flexibility and their muscles’ elasticity by stretching. At the same moment stretching can help them avoid injuries. But what exactly is that technique, what body areas does it involve and, most importantly, are there any dangers related to it? There are so many questions, misconceptions and vague aspects of this activity, even in the mind of experienced athletes, and the answers are not always simple or straightforward. But let’s take things in the right order…

About Stretching

What is Stretching?

First of all, what is stretching? Well, primarily, it is a relatively recent idea; in 1975, Bob and Jean Anderson published the homonymous book, and that was the official appearance of the term, in an era when also the modern fitness movement was in its beginnings. Five years later, in 1980, a revised edition of that book followed, achieving remarkable sales and making millions of people worldwide familiar with this type of training. Today, there is practically no individual living in the western world who is not acquainted with the term. However, fewer are those who can claim that they are acutely aware of the whole concept of stretching – let alone perform it correctly.

Theoretically, stretching is an in-born and spontaneous activity that we all do, everyday! To illustrate this, just try and recall the last time you instinctively stretched your back or your waist muscles after having a good night’s sleep or after working for a few hours sitting on a chair. Still, as it is obvious, in this post, our topic will be purposeful stretching; and this is a type of physical exercise which aims at flexing or extending practically every muscle or tendon of the body in order to enhance its suppleness and enable it to develop a wider range of movement.

We’ve also published an article on the mechanics of stretching which you will probably find interesting! Click here to get it!

about stretching

Stretching Benefits

The expanding of a person’s flexibility through stretches is more important than one can estimate – and, in fact, it is one of the most underrated improvement an individual can induce to his / her body. For instance, an increased range of limberness can guarantee the maintainable or the amelioration of the quality of someone’s daily life, resulting in strengthening muscles, delivering good body balance or providing remarkable alleviation from various aches, pains or cramps; for athletes, or people who have adopted a more dynamic lifestyle, stretching is more than an elective path to take: performing stretches is vital in order to limit the chances of an injury and to maximize their performance, especially in sports that call for a considerable flexibleness. For a more detailed description of the multitude of benefits that stretching offers you need to have a look at our article that focuses on the stretching benefits.

Types of Stretching

Of course, as every person is different, the types of stretching are various too, exactly to make sure that they will deliver the wanted results, and not resulting in wasted time and energy or, even worse, in harming muscles, tendons or tissues. Therefore, age, sex, activity level and genetics (primarily, muscles and joints’ structure) should be taken into consideration before starting implementing stretching and be crucial in terms of which type will be more appropriate for each case. As a consequence, stretches are basically divided into the following categories:

  • Dynamic (which requires motion) or Static (no motion is involved after you reach your stretching limit)
  • Active (using the strength of a “prime movers” muscle) or Passive (where a stretch is hold with either the help of another body part or with exterior assistance)
  • Isometric (a variation of static stretching that involves isometric contractions of the stretched muscles)
  • PNF  (aka Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, which is widely used in clinical environments and is executed by applying a shortening contraction on the opposing muscle so as to achieve stretching on the aimed muscle)
  • Ballistic (which aims at pushing a muscle or tendon beyond its range of motion)
  • AIS (aka Active Isolated Stretching, a technique which involves repetitive stretches with 2 seconds duration)
  • Yoga (a crossbreed of active stretching with other types of stretching -like isometric-)

We suggest that you click the above links so as to better comprehend each stretching type! Please notice that the classification of stretches to dynamic/static is of completely different nature comparing to the classification of stretches to passive/active. So a stretch can be active or passive and at the same moment static or dynamic. The image below can help you better understand the different stretching types:

Types of stretches

Can Stretching Harm You?

The above being outlined, an introduction to stretching would be incomplete if we hadn’t mentioned that controversy over its usefulness has been growing lately. In essence, a part of the scientific and fitness community has stated that stretching can compromise a person’s speed and strength, or even increase the likelihood of an injury, without actually delivering the alleged benefits; for example, a study performed recently at the University of Zagreb in Croatia concluded, among others, that static stretching might diminish the strength of the targeted muscles or lessen a person’s ability to perform explosive actions. Still, the results of the research apply more to professional athletes rather than… ordinary people, while the amount of the relevant data like is not ample enough to provide sturdy evidence that stretching is either useless or hazardous for one’s health.

Our Opinion

What is undoubted though is that stretching can be harmful if practiced improperly. Therefore, anyone who wants to begin doing stretches should consult a doctor or an experienced fitness instructor beforehand so as to ensure that he / she implements the right techniques and thus take full advantage of the stretching benefits.

 

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