Fitness

Stretching 101: Four basic stretches and when to do them

Confused about whether you should stretch before exercising? Our fitness expert James Fell has the scoop

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There are a lot of misconceptions out there about stretching, so let’s see if we can clear some of it up by talking about the different kinds of stretches and what they’re designed to do, along with what they’re not designed to do.

Stretching vs. warming up

It’s important to warm up before any athletic endeavour because it increases muscle temperature, core temperature and blood flow, making for faster muscle contractions, improved strength and power production, decreased muscular resistance and improved oxygen delivery.

However, warming up does not have to mean stretching. Stretching can be a form of warming up, or it can be the activity itself. Also, you can warm up without stretching by simply engaging in some lower-intensity exercise.

Let’s look at the different types of stretches, and find out what they’re best for and when they should be avoided.

Static stretching: This is a slow and constant stretch held for about 30 seconds. Static stretching has long been used as a warm-up in the belief that it enhances performance and reduces the risk of injury, but does it?

The evidence says, “No.”

A 2004 review of the literature on stretching that appeared in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise determined that stretching wasn’t significantly associated with fewer total injuries. What’s more, a 2002 study in Strength and Conditioning Journal asserted, “Substantial evidence is now available to state that static stretching can impair strength and power performance.”

Static stretching makes you more flexible and improves range of motion. If you are a hockey goalie, a martial artist working on high kicks, or just someone looking to try some new things in the bedroom, then static stretching is a valuable tool. However, don’t engage in it with the mistaken belief that it improves performance or reduces risk of injury.

Ballistic stretching: This is the type of stretching that involves a bouncing movement, and it could lead to injury. It’s not the preferred technique for increasing flexibility, so don’t incorporate bouncing into any stretches you do.

Dynamic stretching: This is what I do, because I’m a guy and people don’t expect me to be flexible.

This is functionality-based stretching, where the stretch imitates the movement of the sport or activity you’re about to do. Dynamic stretching can look similar to ballistic stretching because it involves movement rather than holding a static stretch, but dynamic stretches avoid bouncing and are done in a more controlled manner.

Dynamic stretches are becoming the preferred method of warm-up because, unlike static stretching, they increase muscle temperature before exercise, which is good. Dynamic stretching can also be more time efficient.

PNF stretching: This one’s a mouthful. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and it’s like static stretching with extra pain thrown in, usually via a partner. (Notice I didn’t say “friend.”)

There are different types of PNF stretching, but the premise is that it can make you even more flexible by having a partner help you stretch by pushing on your various limbs, holding them there until you relax a bit, then pushing some more just for fun. If you need to be extra flexible, then this definitely helps.

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit www.bodyforwife.com or email him at james@bodyforwife.com.

Watch: Pre-workout stretches | Back to Class

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