Stretching is the process of placing specific parts of your body into a position that will lengthen your muscles and connected soft tissues.
There are several different types of stretches or different ways to perform stretching exercises. The different types of stretches include:
Static stretching is a type of stretch that is performed without movement. Static stretching is where you stretch the muscle to its outer range and until a gentle tension is felt. You typically hold the stretch for 20 – 60 seconds without any movement or bouncing. The position is held to allow the muscles to lengthen. It is a very safe and effective form of stretching with a limited chance of injury.
Its primary purpose is to increase flexibility of the muscles and ligaments. Following a workout, static stretching helps elongate the muscles that have been tightened during the workout. It is not recommended to do static stretching before intense athletic activity because the pre-lengthening of muscles can decrease your muscles’ power. This decrease in power out will mostly decrease your performance.
Dynamic stretching refers to stretching that is performed with movement. You use a swinging or bouncing movement to extend your range of motion and flexibility.
Dynamic stretching involves taking a muscle through its entire range of motion, starting with a slow small movement and gradually increasing both range and speed. This type of stretch is slow, gentle, and very purposeful. At no time during dynamic stretching should a body part be forced past the joints normal range of movement. Examples of these types of drills include soldier kicks, Butt kicks, high knees, cariocas, side shuffles, and walking lunges.
Dynamic stretching is not the best type of stretching for improving flexibility. However, it is excellent way to warm up for an athletic activity or sporting event.
Ballistic stretching is a rapid bouncing stretch that uses momentum to force a body part past its normal range of movement. Ballistic stretching is very aggressive and its purpose is to force the body part beyond the normal limit for range of movement. This type of stretching is rarely recommended because of the aggressive movement and the risks far out way the benefits. Better results can be achieved by using other safer forms of stretching like dynamic stretching.
Passive stretching is also referred to as “relaxed stretching.” A passive stretch involves some sort of assistance to help you achieve a stretch. The assistance is often another person, towel, stretch band, or apparatus you use to help stretch the muscles.
Passive stretching is when you do not contribute to stretch or increase your range of motion. You simply relax while your muscle that is being stretched. To perform a passive stretch, you relax while the partner or apparatus moves the joint to the point of tension in the muscle and holding it for you. There should be no jerking or bouncing force applied to the stretched muscle.
An example of a static stretch is when you lie on your back and your partner performs a straight leg raise for you until tension is felt, at which time the partner will hold the position for you.
Passive stretching is helpful in attaining a greater range of movement. It is often used as part of a rehabilitation program or as part of a cool down.
Active stretching is when you assume a position and then hold it with no assistance other than using the strength of your opposing muscles. The stretch involves moving the joint through its range of motion and holding it at the point when it is completely stretched.
This stretch is performed without any aid or assistance from an external force such as a band, bar, or chair. With active stretching, you simply hold the stretched position with the opposing muscle group. With this stretch, your muscles are playing an active role in holding the stretch position.
An example of an active stretch is when you raise one leg straight out in front of you as high as possible and then holding it there without anything or anyone to keep the leg in that extended position.
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) uses repeated and rhythmical muscle contractions held for only two seconds to achieve a safe and effective stretch. When completing Active Isolated Stretching, you hold a stretch for only one or two seconds before the stretch reflex kicks in, then relax the position, and repeat it 8-12 times.
AIS works by contracting the opposing muscle group, which forces the stretched muscle group to relax. The stretching exercises are precise to isolate specific muscles and joints. Similar to a strength training, AIS is performed for several sets with 8-12 repetitions in each set. Over the course of each set, the muscles achieve a greater range of motion.
To complete at active isolated stretch, you reach a certain position and hold it steady without any assistance other than the strength of your own muscles. You hold it for only two seconds at a time. This allows the muscle to lengthen progressively. This way optimal flexibility is accomplished with ease and no strain. You perform the stretch repeatedly for 8–12 repetitions, each time exceeding the previous point of resistance by a few degrees.
Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching, which means it does not use motion. This stretching involves the resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles. An isometric contraction occurs when tension is created in the muscle group without a change in its length. You can create the needed resistance for an isometric stretch with a chair, wall, or a partner to apply the resistance.
To perform an isometric stretch, you should take a passive stretch position and then contract the stretched muscle for 10 to 15 seconds. Isometric means you put as much force on a muscle as you can for only a short amount of time. So the contraction during the stretch should only be held for 10-15 seconds. Then you should relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds. The stretch should be repeated two to five times.
An example of an isometric stretch is to place your outstretched leg on a chair and use your bodyweight to bring about a stretch. Once you have reached that flexibility limit, tense your muscles. That is, simply contract your hamstrings to create an isometric stretch. Hold for the 10-15 seconds.
PNF is an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. PNF stretching involves both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted in order to achieve maximum flexibility. It is one of the most effective techniques for increasing range of motion and improving flexibility. This is accomplished by contracting the muscles when you are in a specific stretched position. After holding the contraction for about 10 – 20 seconds you relax. Then the next time you stretch, you will be able to stretch a bit further than you could before the contraction. Hold times and contraction times will vary, but anywhere form 10-20 seconds for the contraction and 15-20 seconds for the relaxation.
There are many different variations of the PNF stretching, however, the most common PNF stretching techniques are the hold-relax and the hold-relax-contract methods.
To perform a PNF stretch, start by performing a specific stretch. Go to your maximum level of flexibility (relaxed stretching part). After you have reached your maximum level of flexibility, flex or contract the muscles involved in the stretch (isometric part). Hold the contraction for 10-20 seconds and then release. Finish the stretch by stretching to a new maximum level (further than you did before the contraction).
For example, to perform a hamstring PNF stretch; Start by laying on your back and raising the straight leg up. Stretch your hamstring until you reach your maximum stretch position (you feel a little discomfort). Then contract the hamstring isometrically (as if trying to push the foot back down to the floor) for 10-15 seconds, relax the muscle. Finish by slowly deepening the stretch using your quadriceps (opposing muscle). Repeat the sequence 3-4 times.