Yes, some are more flexible than others; however stretching does improve everyone’s flexibility. We sell ourselves short if we don’t stretch when we exercise, whether it’s strength, balance, or endurance training. Flexibility increases the ease of muscle contractions and decreases the likelihood of muscle soreness and tension after workouts. Our range of motion improves, preventing injury. We get to know our bodies better, improving our coordination throughout the day and making other forms of exercises easier.
Maybe while stretching your body, you’ve noticed are different modes of muscle lengthening. Despite how good many of them feel, there are pros and cons and important facts to keep in mind while you’re stretching.
- Static Stretching – This slow and sustained movement at one joint requires little energy and decreases muscle tension the possibility of injury by passing the normal range of motion. For example, when sitting on the floor with your legs straight and reaching for your toes, letting your hands fall and being still.
- Passive Stretching – This type of static stretching requires assistance from another person or force. The person stretching must relax their muscles. For example, when a trainer puts pressure on the back when you are sitting on the floor with your legs straight and reach for your toes, letting your hands fall and being still.
- Active Stretching – This slow stretch requires the muscle to be moved through its range of motion. For example, when sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and flex your toes towards your face, you are actively contracting the muscles on the front of you leg and stretching the muscles behind your leg.
- Dynamic Stretching – This stretch requires controlled deliberate movement, actively moving muscles repeatedly through the range of motion, benefits functional range of motion used in daily living. For example, pointing and flexing your toes.
- Ballistic Stretching – This shouldn’t be confused with dynamic stretching, as it refers to quick bouncing movements, for example when you bounce when reaching towards your toes. The cons far outweigh the benefits and this type of stretching should be avoided.
Where to start? First, determine the proper posture or alignment before starting the stretch. Become conscious of your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Inhale as your prepare to stretch and exhale as you relax into the stretch to give yourself greater range of motion. Do not hold your breath. Remain conscious of your comfortable range of motion. Continue this cycle until you feel you can’t stretch any further; until discomfort increases slightly. Slowly inhale and return back to your initial position to allow your muscles to recover to their natural length.
When should a person not stretch? If there is sharp pain or uncontrolled cramping when stretching, stop. If bones at a joint limit your motion, or if you have an unhealed fracture, infection, or inflammation around the joint, or a local hematoma, don’t do it! Wait 8-12 weeks post injury to stretch site, and before that consult with your doctor to make sure your body is up for the challenge.