Stretching, is it important, should you do it, and are there better alternatives?

Stretching, is it important, should you do it, and are there better alternatives?

First, we should specify a little more. There are multiple forms of “strecthing” or flexibility work and each has some specific functions.  As opposed to typing a research paper concerning the pros and cons of each one and how they compare to each other, I will list each of the major forms and discuss its pros/cons and best uses.

Dynamic flexibilty

  • also known as mimic drills as they typically mimic specific athletic motions from a chosen sport or skill
  • they warm up the important connective tissues for the chosen skill and do so in ways that mimic their specific actions during that skill
  • warms up the nervous system and “primes” it for specific movements essentially waking everything up
  • increases power out put (increases vertical jump by 10% compared to a jog warm-up for example)
  • great for movement preparation (warm-ups for your sport)

PNF

  • also known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
  • you typically need a buddy unless you’re fairly creative
  • involves sequences of relaxed static stretching, agonist contraction, and antagonist contraction (multiple variations exist)
  • uses proprioceptors to trick the muscles nervous system into relaxing more
  • great for fully relaxing a muscle to its potential, especially for an abnormally tight muscle
  • better for recovery than other forms of stretching
  • calms the muscle and under most circumstances is not the best form of flexibility work pre-activity
  • works faster and better than static stretching

 

Static Stretching

  • Typical form of stretching thought of
  • easy to do on your own using your body weight of assisting devices such as ropes, racks or bands
  • essentially relaxes the nervous system
  • slightly increases rigidity and reduces elasticity of the connective tissues temporarily (this is a nuance of the visco-elastic properties of connective tissues, and can increase the risk of injury under some circumstances)
  • reduces power output acutely (approximately 10% reduction)
  • helps relax a muscle after activity
  • targets the fascia under many circumstances which can help stop adhesion formation and reduce the long term risk of injuries

 

Myofascial Release 

  • There are many forms of myofascial release:  active release technique, foam roller (smooth and knobby), sorinex trigger bar, myo balls of various forms
  • helps break up triggers points and adhesions within the muscle and between muscle fibers and the fascia
  • facilitates muscle relaxation by removing localized areas of tightness
  • facilitates improved muscle contraction and better firing patterns by freeing up previously bound motor units in both agonists and antagonists
  • improves movement patterns
  • does not reduce power output and, can increase it
  • works great on cold tissues, work less efficiently on warm tissues
  • valuable pre-workout, during workout as tightnesses become apparent, and during the recovery period

 

Shake outs

  • shakeouts are a rhythmic shaking motion applied to a particular muscle or muscle group
  • they reset muscle tetanus (the resting contractile state of a muscle) to a lower lever, reducing muscle tension
  • slow shakes are used to relax a muscle, 30 seconds is often much more effective than 60 seconds of static stretching
  • does not negatively effective connective tissues
  • increases blood flow and warms up tissues
  • faster motions excite a muscle and optimize firing rate to improve force velocity curves, improving performance

 

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