learning how to stretch it is important to take into consideration the
variables that exist when stretching:
There is plenty of evidence that shows that various stretching interventions will improve range of motion and flexibility, but "how to stretch" protocols vary. Most research has been done with healthy young individuals so it is difficult to generalize to populations outside of those limitations on a website of this nature. People with long standing contractures, connective tissue disorders or other pathologic restrictions are best to seek the advice of a physical therapist who will use their best clinical judgment to determine the appropriate parameters for how to stretch. The type, magnitude, duration, and frequency of stretching must be based on scientific evidence.
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 other 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.
The magnitude of a stretch is determined by the force applied to the limb. Low magnitude stretching held for longer durations has been shown to be superior to high magnitude stretches held for shorter periods. This type of stretcing also minimizes the risk of tissue damage. Remember that stretching is a gradual process. It may take several weeks of stretching before you see significant results.
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.
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
A 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 healthy young active people in a conditioning program and is not recommended for anyone older, otherwise sedentary, or anyone with musculoskeletal pathology..
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:
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.
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
PNF Stretching (hold-relax and contract-relax)
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.