Stretching Guide | Types of Stretches to Improve Flexibility


Advanced Fitness and Lifestyles Science & Beneficial Wellness Studies

Every goal-oriented athlete wants to become the best. We're always on a quest for ways to improve our performance. Unfortunately, there are times when we tend to skip a basic step or two. Bodybuilders commonly skip stretching-to our detriment. You might not think stretching will help you lift heavy weights, but I learned the hard way just how valuable it can be. I suffered a number of injuries in my early years of training. During physical therapy I discovered that some of those injuries could have been prevented if I'd used stretching as part of my daily regimen.

It's hard to overestimate the benefits of stretching. It improves your circulation by decreasing the mechanical constriction of blood vessels, helps you work out muscle soreness, takes some of the stress off connective tissues and lowers the risk of muscle strains. Furthermore, it increases your range of motion, helps maintain normal tracking at the joints and lets you recover faster between sets.

Mild stretching can be beneficial anytime, but I find that a regular, structured program makes a big difference in my workouts. I incorporate 20 to 30 minutes of stretching into each session, and I make sure I stretch before, during and after each workout.

Ballistic stretching

During the years I did Olympic and powerlifting, I learned this form, in which you stretch a muscle as far as you can and then bounce to get beyond that point. I don't recommend this style at aft, because it can tear muscle tissue.

Proprloceptive neuromuscular facilitation

In this approach you stretch a muscle as far as you can tolerate and then contract it against the resistance of a partner or object. I became very familiar with this form during rehab following knee surgery. The buildup of scar tissue in the joint had decreased my range of motion; daily PNF stretching enabled me to regain that range and Let me get back to training sooner.

Static stretching

This is the most basic and natural way to stretch. Stretch a muscle as far as you comfortably can and pause for about 20 seconds, then return to the starting position.

Start each session with a warmup and gradually ease into your stretches, Exhale and relax as you stretch. Stretch only within your limits. Try to stretch all muscle groups. People often make the mistake of trying to stretch a muscle too fat. When you do that, you cause microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, which make the muscle become sore and lose its elasticity as scar tissue accumulates-precisely the opposite effect of what you want from stretching. If you find yourself doing this, back off and take a gentler, slower approach.

On a typical leg-training day, I incorporate the following stretches into my routine. Start with 10 or 15 mm- tires on the treadmill as a warmup and follow that with a mild stretching session. After each set of exercises I stretch again, which lets me recover more quickly and maintain elasticity in the muscle. When I finish lifting, I cool down and then use PNF stretching. I end the workout with a fairly aggressive static stretching session.

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