to Stretch - Alignment and Stabilization of the body
Proper alignment and posture of the area being stretched is necessary
for comfort and stability during stretching. The alignment of the joint
will influence the amount of tension present in the soft tissues while
stretching, but postural alignment must be considered as well. The
position of adjacent joints should be considered so as not to strain
other structures unintentionally. For example, when stretching your
hamstrings sitting on the floor it is easy to inadvertently force the
lumbar spine into a position that puts an excessive amount of strain on
the lumbar intervertebral discs. By being aware of your pelvic
positioning this can be minimized.
We can learn from yoga that through particular stretching postures we
are lengthening one muscle group while stabilizing with other muscle
groups. This stability allows one to elongate a muscle being
stretched. Breathing allows the limb being stretched to elongate
slowly as you relax.
Stabilization can also involve the fixation of one segment while the
segment moves. A stationary object such as a door frame or a chair will
usually stability the more distal segment while the more proximal
segment moves. An example of this is stretching the pecs through a door
frame. Forearms are stabilized through the door frame while the
individual leans forward through the door.
to stretch - Magnitude of the Stretch
The magnitude of a stretch is determined by the force applied to the
limb. Low magnitude stretching held for longer durations has
shown to be superior to high magnitude stretches held for shorter
periods. This type of stretcing also minimizes the risk of
damage. Remember that stretching is a gradual process. It may take
several weeks of stretching before you see significant results.
to Stretch - Duration of Stretch
Choosing the duration that is effective, safe, and practical
an important consideration. When learning how to stretch one must decide how long you should stretch
which depends on your age, activity level, the presence of scar tissue,
whether you smoke, etc. All of the above can affect the results of your
stretching, and of course the goals of stretching should also be
considered. If you are training for hurdles, your goals are different
than if you are training for hockey or basketball.
Growing children: 10 seconds
Young adults: 30 seconds
Older individuals (>60): 60 seconds
See the following page for a
discussion on how
long to stretch.
to Stretch - Speed of the Stretch
A slow stretch will affect the viscoelastic properties of soft tissues
more than a fast stretch, creating more compliance. A slow stretch will
also ensure that the muscle remains relaxed during the stretch and
prevent injury. Muscle spindles are sensitive to the speed of
stretching so a quick stretch is more likely to create tension in the
muscle. A slower stretch is also easier to control so is less likely to
high speed stretch with high magnitude is called a ballistic stretch.
A ballistic stretch uses momentum to carry a limb through its range of
motion. This type of stretching, although also effective in increasing
mobility, is more likely to injure soft tissues and create muscle
soreness. Learning how to stretch this way is best done under the
supervision of a professional. Stretching in this way is only safe for
active people in a conditioning program and is not recommended for
anyone older, otherwise sedentary, or anyone with musculoskeletal
to Stretch - Frequency of Stretch
Stretching frequency refers to the number of times an individual
stretches in a day or week. The frequency of stretching needed to gain
flexibility depends on the following factors:
There are few studies that exist giving guidelines as to frequency of
stretching and the response to stretching may vary amongst individuals.
Things to consider when thinking about frequency are:
- cause of stiffness
- medications taken
- rest time between
sessions for tissue healing and to
minimize post exercise soreness
- if there is excessive
loading of tissues, tissue breakdown
can exceed its ability to repair leading to tissue failure
- inflammation from
repetitive stress can lead to the
formation of hypertrophic scarring
Once a muscle is stretched, these changes are not permanent due to the
elasticity of the muscle. Like a rubber band, the muscle will bound
back to its original length. More permanent changes come with adaptive
remodeling, or creep. Some studies show that stretching is most
beneficial to achieve overall change in mobility when performed four
times a day.
to Stretch - Method of Stretching
Regardless of the method of stretching it is important to warm the
tissues first. This can be done through low intensity active exercises
or the application of heat.
The methods of stretching discussed on this website are
(hold-relax and contract-relax)
to Stretch - Integrate Functional Movements
Results of stretching are only transient. Gains in range of motion will
eventually be lost as soft tissues retract to their original length.
Studies show that this takes about four weeks to occur after you have
stopped stretching. The best way to maintain gains in range of motion
is to incorporate the new range of motion into activities done on a
daily basis. It is important that as you achieve more mobility in a
joint or muscle that you gain strength in that new range in order to
maintain a balance amongst the muscles around a joint throughout its
range of motion.