Types of Stretches
By Jon Stiffler PTA/Sports Center Manager
Types of Stretches and When to Use Them
With increasing popularity of fitness and sports, it is important to utilize every strategy necessary to reduce risk of injury. One of the most important and overlooked components of fitness and sports is having good flexibility. Flexibility is the total amount of range a muscle can allow a joint to pass through freely. There are 3 categories of flexibility: corrective, active, and functional flexibility. Understanding the flexibility category you fall into and how to properly perform the stretches within the particular category will aid in decreasing the risk of injury during physical activities.
The first category of flexibility is Corrective Flexibility. Corrective Flexibility utilizes static stretching, myofascial release, and neuromuscular stretching in order to correct improper posture, muscle imbalances, and joint dysfunctions. Static stretching can be used to permanently lengthen imbalanced muscles and allow the joint to function properly through full range of motion. Static stretching can also be used after physical activities to return the muscle to its original pre-activity length. To perform a static stretch, take the limb to the point of stretch or when you feel a bit limitation. Once you achieve this position hold the limb in place for 30 seconds. Myofascial release is the next method utilized in the Corrective Flexibility category. Myofascial release can be utilized to release tight or painful parts of a particular muscle. To perform this technique you need a foam roller, massage stick, or round object with a firm surface. Using one of these tools, pressure is applied at the tender point once identified for at least 30 seconds to trigger a release of the muscle or tissue. The last method used with the Corrective Flexibility category is neuromuscular stretching. In order to perform neuromuscular stretching, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) you will bring your limb to the end of the joint’s range of motion. After reaching end range, you will contract the muscle being stretched for 7 to 15 seconds. Once this is done, you will relax the muscle again, and the limb is stretched further past the previous end range achieving greater flexibility. This is held for 20-30 seconds at the new end range. This should be repeated 3 times before completely releasing the limb.
The next category of flexibility is Active Flexibility. This should be used once you have decreased postural dysfunctions, muscle imbalances, and joint dysfunctions. Active flexibility is used to improve soft tissue extensibility in all planes of motion. It utilizes myofascial release, neuromuscular stretching, and active-isolated stretching. Active-isolated stretching is a stretch that incorporates the contraction of the muscle that works against the one you are stretching as you stretch your limb to the end of the joint’s range of motion. An example of this would be using your hip flexors and quadriceps to perform a straight leg raise which results in your hamstring muscle relaxing and will allow the hamstrings to be stretched through a greater range of motion. This stretch can be performed in sets and reps and should be held 1 to 2 seconds. The purpose of active flexibility is to achieve flexibility in all planes of motion. When deficits in all planes of motion are reduced, you are ready to perform stretches in the final category of flexibility.
The final category of flexibility is Functional Flexibility. Functional flexibility is used to improve multi-planar range of motion and aids in improving control throughout the full range, with regards to speed, direction, and intensity. People that perform physical activities that include components such as these without functional flexibility may experience injuries due to the tissue not being extensible enough for the dynamic stretch during physical activity. With functional flexibility, myofascial release and dynamic stretching is utilized to achieve tissue extensibility and neuromuscular control through full range of motion, which is needed to perform physical activities without compensation or increased risk of injury. Dynamic stretching is defined as the utilization of the body’s own force and momentum to take the joint through its full range of motion. Dynamic stretching can be used by athletes or weightlifters prior to maximal effort activities.
In conclusion, flexibility is an often underperformed and overlooked part of performing physical activities. Knowing the category of stretches you should perform and how to perform them, as well as how to progress stretching, will aid in the reduction of injury during physical activities by ultimately helping increase range of motion and tissue extensibility.
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