As is the case with strengthening regimens, there is also a plethora of stretching options. Fortunately these may be grouped collectively into two groups: The application of a stretching program may be divided into either with movement (dynamic) or without movement (static). While stretching has stood the test of time, the empirical evidence provides contradiction as to the efficacy and to another degree the safety of various approaches to stretching.
Static stretching as the name implies is the stretching of a muscle group by holding the group without movement at the end of the range of motion. During static stretching, the force for the stretch comes from the athlete themselves by using body positioning versus another body part or an object to achieve end range stretching. End range static stretches are generally held for 30 seconds. There is evidence; however which suggest static stretching may decrease some performance levels in such feats as vertical jump. An alternative to pure static stretching is passive static stretching. In this case, another person or an apparatus applies the end range over pressure to secure greater range. A danger here is the application of force by another person may lead to musclotendonious injury. The risk goes up with increased force at end range and the greater the speed utilized to get to end range.
Dynamic stretching, as the name implies, is a stretch associated with movement. The movements are often done in a sport specific pattern where antagonist muscle group is recruited to provide some relaxation to group being stretched. The utilization of the opposite muscle group implements a neurological component called neuromuscular inhibition. In this case, the best example would be the recruitment of the quadriceps group to stretch the hamstring. Motor units are driven to the quadriceps to contract while impulses are sent to the hamstring encouraging relaxation. This of course is important that as we try to stretch a muscle group it is in the relaxed versus contracted state. To properly execute a dynamic stretch, begin with slow and controlled movements that take you gently to the end range, gradually increasing speed of movement and range of motion.
A common misconception involving dynamic stretching is to bounce through the end range in attempts to increase flexibility. This is called ballistic stretching and is counter-productive as it does not allow the muscle to relax in the lengthened state. Muscle spindles within the muscles are sensitive to any change in velocity and length. When a muscle is moved too quickly the muscle spindle becomes activated and can cause the muscle to tighten and shorten in length, increasing the risk of musclotendonious injury.
With either of these types of stretching, consistency is imperative. Stretching should be a part of your warm up and cool down routines, as well as added throughout the day as needed. The warm up stretch should be preceded by 5-10 minutes of light exercise to allow an increase in the muscle temperature. This increase can effectively change the elasticity of the muscles and tendons, which allows for a greater change in muscle length while stretching and help reduce injury. However, since fatigue can cause muscles to tighten it is essential that the muscles are stretched post-workout as well to encourage an increased length as well as prevent muscle soreness.
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Burton L. Rogers, Jr. Ed.D., MBA, ATC, PTA
Administrative Director, Sports Medicine Division, Orthopedics
The University of Toledo Medical Center
Dowling Hall-Morse Center
3000 Arlington Avenue