Ballistic Stretching

What is Ballistic Stretching?
How Does this Form of Stretching Exercise affect Tendons?
How can a Stretching Exercise Prevent Tendon Injuries?
Elasticity of Tendons.
Tight Hamstrings.
Will Stretching Ballistically Improve Performance?

A Definition

This type of stretching exercise involves bouncing into a range when the muscle is not prepared or relaxed such that it can enter that range.  This exercise can be dangerous if done without supervision or training by a professional.

Stretching to improve flexibility is a common practice amongst athletes both recreational and competitive. There are many studies that show joint range of motion improves with stretching exercises and many have looked at the different types of stretching. But, stretching doesn't just affect the muscle, it can affect the tendons as well.


How Does This Affect Tendons?

Muscles and tendons behave differently depending on what type of sport is taking place. The musculotendinous unit can create forces in two different ways:

  1. Jumping requires the tendon to perform as an elastic, shortening, An eccentric contraction is immediately followed by a concentric contraction. The muscle is forced to lengthen while working and then suddenly shorten.
  2. Swimming or cycling requires the direct conversion of biochemical energy into mechanical energy through primarily concentric contraction.

 We know that if a muscle is stretched immediately before it is shortened concentrically, that the force generated is greater than a concentric contraction alone. This is the result of energy being stored in the elastic noncontractile elements of a musculotendinous unit.  The noncontractile, elastic component consists of the tendon, aponeurosis, epi, endo,  and perimysium, and other proteins at the level of the sarcomere. The elastic structures store energy from mechanical work during the eccentric contractions.

On the other hand, a more rigid tendon will more efficiently transfer force from the muscle to the bone and energy from metabolism will more efficiently be converted into mechanical work. So, activities such as swimming and cycling would benefit from more rigid tendons.

Tendons of those involved in jumping sports  need a high capacity to store potential energy in the musculotendinous unit and therefore benefit from a more elastic tendon.

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How can Ballistic Stretching prevent Tendon Injuries?

 Tendon injuries occur in every sport, but more frequently in those sports that require the eccentric contractions quickly followed by the concentric contractions. (ie jumping) The more frequent these movements, the higher the incidence of tendon injuries.(1,2)
Clearly individuals with a more compliant and elastic tendon would have less injuries.

Ballistic Stretching and the Elasticity of Tendons

 Animal studies have shown that the elasticity of tendons can be changed through stretching and human studies have shown that repetitive stretches increase hamstring compliance. Stretching changes the viscoelastic properties of the the musculotendinous unit.(3,4)

Research using Achilles tendons shows us that this type of stretching exercise will result in a significant reduction in Achilles stiffness; however, static stretching of the Achilles had no effect on Achilles tendon stiffness suggesting that both types of stretching could be beneficial in terms of training and physical therapy. (5)

It is likely that  there is adaptation of the collagen fibers within the connective tissues of the musculotendinous unit due to the stretches. During this type of stretching exercise, because the muscle is contracted, a greater force is transmitted through the tendon since the muscle is stiffer.

Ballistic Stretching and Tight Hamstrings

 A comparative study involving the stretching of hamstrings in 40 individuals between the age of 20 and 40 with tight hamstrings was done in 2010 and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. (4) Static stretching of hamstrings was compared to ballistic stretching over the course of six weeks. Results showed that after six weeks in this population ballistic stretching was better than static stretching in improving flexibility of the hamstrings.


Will Ballistic Stretching Improve Performance?

 While this type of stretching exercise can improve tendon elasticity, there doesn't appear to be much evidence that if used prior to a competition it will improve performance. Results of much research has shown negative effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitative stretching prior to competition.

A study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that compared ballistic stretching to dynamic stretching in terms of jump height, force produced, and jump power. (6) 20 healthy male and female individuals between the age of 22 and 34 took part in a daily program of ballistic stretching and a program of dynamic stretching and were compared to a group that didn't stretch. Results showed that neither dynamic nor ballistic stretching resulted in increased vertical jump height, or force. Dynamic stretching did however improve jump power post stretch. (The force was generated more quickly)

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1. Jozsa L, Kvist M, Balint JB, et al. The role of recreational sport activity in Achilles tendon rupture: a clinical , pathoanatomical and sociological study of 292 cases. Am J Sports Med 1989;17:338–43.

2. Lian O, Engebretsen L, Bahr R. Prevalence of jumper’s knee among elite athletes from different sports: a cross-sectional study. Am J Sports Med 2005;33:561–7.

3. Viidik A. Tensile strength properties of Achilles tendon systems in trained and untrained rabbits. Acta Orthopaedica Scandinavica 1969;40:261–72

4. C K Kishore Kumar1, Surajeet Chakrabarty  A comparative study of static stretching versus ball istic stretching on the flexibility of the hamstring muscles of athletes Br J Sports Med 2010;44

5. Mahieu N, McNair P, De Muynck M, et al. Effect of static and ballistic stretchingon the muscle-tendon tissue properties. Med Sci Sports Ex, 2007.

6. Jaggers JR, Swank AM, Frost KL, Lee CD. The acute effects of dynamic and ball. stretching on vertical jump height, force, and power. J Strength Cond Res. 2008 Nov;22(6):1844-9.

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