I mentioned in my last post that a proper cool down with stretching was a great way to help avoid injury, but I didn’t go much into the types of stretching or how to do it. So I decided today’s post would be a follow up on that one and help explain things a little further. I refer to workouts, but these same principles can be applied before and after work to just about anyone that has a physically demanding job: construction workers, nurses, waitresses and waiters, factory workers, delivery people, dancers, soldiers, police officers, fire fighters and more. Pretty much Every Body can benefit from it.
There are many types of stretching: ballistic, dynamic, static, active, passive, PNF, and isometric. There are a lot of similarities and differences in each of them and they can each play a part in keeping you healthy and injury free. Well, all but one. Ballistic stretching, which is putting a muscle into a stretched position and bouncing in attempt to push muscle farther into a stretch then it wants to go. This used to be a standard stretch but it has been found to cause muscle damage and can lead to severe injury.
Dynamic stretching is the recommended type of stretching to use prior to activity. After a warm up period dynamic stretching helps prepare muscles for activity. It uses sport/activity specific movements that you just keep cycling through and slowly increasing height/distance/length of stride/arm movement/etc. Back when I was in high school we often referred to it as form work (strides, high knees, karaoke, bounds, butt kicks, etc). Dynamic stretching, while very beneficial as part of the warm up, dynamic stretching does little to nothing after exercise to help muscles recover after activity.
After a workout, a good cool down is very important, and at the end of the cool down it is important to stretch. There are several types of stretching that will be of benefit here, but normal static stretching is my usual recommendation. Active stretching requires you to contract the muscle opposite of the one you want to stretch to pull the other muscle into stretch. So if you want to stretch your hamstrings you use your quads to pull hamstring into a stretch. This type of stretch can be good because it not only stretches the muscle, but it helps strengthen the muscle doing the stretching. Unfortunately at the end of a workout (or work shift) muscles may be too fatigued to properly stretch each other.
Passive stretching is very effective but requires either a partner or some kind of strap or other device to pull with. Going back to the hamstrings, to do a passive stretch your partner would push hamstrings into a stretch and hold it there. If no partner is available you need to use a strap to pull leg into stretch with your arms.
PNF and isometric stretching are very similar. Both are very effective, but require either a partner or once again a strap of some kind. Muscle is pulled into a stretch, similar to passive stretch, and after a period of stretch resistance is applied against the stretch. I find PNF stretching to be very effective and use it a lot with my athletes in my athletic training room, but because of the pushing against the stretch it is hard to do alone, and I don’t often recommend it.
For the average person, athlete, etc in a nonclinical setting, I find static stretching to be their best option. This is the type of stretching we see people doing most often and most of us did in physical education (gym) classes when we were little. Simply put the muscle into a stretched position and hold it there. Ten seconds used to be the standard when I was young, but the current recommendation is 20-30 seconds. I usually tell my athletes to hold the stretch for a 25-30 count. If a particular muscle is tight, doing a second, third, or even fourth set may be needed.
Whether you are an athlete or someone who just works hard, if you take care of your muscles, they’ll do a better job of taking care of you. Need help determining what stretches you should be doing or how to stretch a certain muscle? Other questions? An athletic trainer can help you.
Please help protect the safety of our youth athletes. **(petition failed)