Stretching Exercises

Do stretching exercises improve flexibility? If so, what kind of stretches are best? Is it best to do your stretching exercises before a work out, after exercise, or both? Does stretching enhance athletic performance or does it diminish it? Can an athlete prevent injuries with stretching? For answers to these and other questions, keep reading.

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Benefits of Stretching

  1. Increased flexibility
  2. Flexibility allows us to accomplish everyday tasks of daily living such as bending over to tie our shoes, or reaching to put groceries away in a cupboard. More demanding tasks such as jumping to throw a basketball or swim 100 meters are also easier if your joints can be taken through a full range of motion with minimal effort.
  3. Flexibility minimizes our risk of injury by allowing joints to move through their full range of motion without putting strain on ligaments or capsular structures.
  4. Flexibility allows for good circulation. This circulation is necessary to provide working muscles with nutrients and to allow for a speedy recovery following exercise.
  5. Flexibility allows you to maintain a good posture. Tight muscles will pull you into poor postures.
  6. Stretching exercises help muscles to relax, relieving tension.
Differing conclusions have been dealt amongst dozens of research papers in attempts to answer the above questions.  With this website I hope to address these and other issues based on my own research and clinical experience.  I hope to explain various stretching techniques including static stretching, dynamic stretching, PNF, myofascial release and that done in the practice of yoga.

I include stretching techniques for major muscle groups as well as more advanced stretches for particular sports. Included are illustrated demonstrations of the practical application of various stretches for different muscle groups.

I discuss factors that affect flexibility, although there is differing opinions regarding possible benefits of stretching programs, I will attempt to focus on more generally accepted research findings and less on the controversial claims.  I will attempt to include relevant references. With this website I hope to improve peoples understanding of flexibility and the application of techniques in stretching.

Static stretches

This is the "stretch and hold" type of stretching. This type stretching exercise is safe and is used to increase the range of motion of a joint. Adequate flexibility is necessary to participate in sports and activities of life safely, but there is an optimum time and place for static stretching exercises. Static stretching exercises are just as important to your overall fitness as strengthening and endurance exercises. Click here for more information on static stretching.

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching requires a combination of strength and flexibility. Dynamic stretching is the act of taking a muscle to the end of its range and then rather than holding the stretch contracting the muscle that is being stretched. In this way we can strengthen a muscle in its new range. These stretching exercises help to increase flexibility, strength, muscle coordination and balance. A dynamic stretching program will use more sport specific techniques focusing on movement patterns required in the sport. This type of stretching done before an athletic event will help to improve performance. Click here for more information on dynamic stretching.

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching is achieved as the name implies, through the use of mechanical devices, the assistance of gravity, or use of a partner. Muscles around the joint undergoing a passive stretch remain inactive. Click here for more information on passive stretches.

Ballistic Stretching

Ballistic stretching involves bouncing into a range when the muscle is not prepared or relaxed such that it can enter that range.  This type of stretching can be dangerous if done without supervision or training by a professional. Click here for more information on ballistic stretching.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF Stretching)

PNF uses the application of neurophysiological principles to the manual treatment and evaluation of neuromuscular dysfunctions.  The goal of using PNF is to facilitate an optimal structural and neuromuscular state. This achieves a better distribution of forces across the musculoskeletal system and reduces inherent functional stress that may be caused by inadequate muscular control. The stretching techniques used by physical therapists familiar with the PNF methods of evaluating and treating movement disorders are well know to improve the outcomes of stretching regimens. Click here for more information on PNF Stretching.

Myofascial Stretching

Fascia is a continuous, three dimensional network of connective tissues that enclose all structures in the human body. The function of fascia is to provide support and transmits forces from muscles across limbs. Fascia connects all tissues of the body, so when fascia is tight or adherent it can alter biomechanics and posture.  Click here for more information on fascia, fascial stretching, and myofascial release.

We need to be careful when jumping to conclusions when it comes to improving sports performance.  The world of competitive athletics tends to promote new ideas with little thought about the evidence in an attempt to stay one step ahead of competition.  Marketing to sports organizations and athletes is often anecdotal and testimonial based. As physical therapists it is our job to support evidence based clinical decision making and cut through all the sales efforts.
Just because static stretching doesn't improve athletic performance doesn't mean we should discontinue it. We know it helps to improve and maintain  range of motion.  We now have research that supports dynamic stretching as a method to improve sports performance, but we don't have guidelines or protocols  for its most effective application.
Probably the most effective means of preventing injury and optimizing sports performance is a combination of all the stretching techniques.