Focus on Flexibility

Although research shows flexibility training has many benefits, people often neglect this aspect of fitness. Yes, me included! Yet, the more I learn about the benefits the more I realize stretching is well worth the small amount of effort it requires. There are many kinds of stretches thought to help improve flexibility such as:

  • ballistic stretching
  • dynamic stretching
  • active stretching
  • passive stretching
  • static stretching
  • isometric stretching
  • proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching

Benefits of stretching include:

  • Increase joint range of motion(ROM).
  • Relieve muscle tightness and stiffness.
  • Improve postural imbalances and help to reduce chronic back pain.
  • Increase localized blood flow to the muscles being stretched.
  • Possibly relieve muscle soreness after intense physical activity and help to reduce the severity of DOMS (delayed Onset Muscle Soreness).

After learning about the benefits I wanted to know how long to stretch for and when. I focused specifically on static stretching.  Static stretching consists of stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position.  Research showed that the greatest change in ROM with a static stretch occurs between holding each stretch 15 and 30 seconds. (1, 2) So, I’ve made it a goal to hold my stretches for 25 seconds at a time.

Research shows the best time to perform static stretches is after your resistance-training workouts when the body and muscles are warm.  Interestingly enough, static stretching as part of a warm-up immediately prior to exercise has been shown “detrimental to dynamometer-measured muscle strength and performance in running and jumping.”(3-22)

IMG_1476

Key points for flexibility training:

  1. Mix it up! From PNF with a partner to static stretching in mind-body modalities like yoga, mixing up your approach to flexibility will not only offer improvement in range of motion around the joints, it will also keep things more enjoyable and exciting
  2. Don’t make it stretching painful.  If you’re anything like me you want to feel challenged. However in stretching, there’s a big difference between slight discomfort and extreme pain. When performing static stretching, make it a point to stretch only to the point of feeling mild tightness or slight discomfort to ensure the greatest level of safety and effectiveness.
  3. Stretch multiple areas.  Flexibility training  is joint specific, meaning there’s not one specific stretch that will improve your overall flexibility. If only, right? Instead, incorporate a variety of different movements and stretching techniques into your training to target the major muscle tendon units such as: neck, chest, shoulder girdle, trunk, lower back, hips, legs, and ankles.

There are a few circumstances where you might need to approach stretching with caution.  They include(23):

  • a fracture site that is healing
  • acute soft tissue injury
  • post-surgical conditions
  • joint hypermobility
  • an area of infection
  • a hematoma or other indication of traua
  • pain in the affected area
  • presence of osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis
  • joint swelling from trauma or disease

If a client presents with any type of contraindication, the patient should get further clearance form a doctor.

Articles Referenced:

  1.  McHugh MP, Magnusson SP, Gleim GW, Nicholas JA. Viscoelastic stress relaxation in human skeletal muscleMed Sci Sports Exerc. Dec 1992;24(12):1375–1382 
  2. Bandy WD, Irion JM. The effect of time on static stretch on the flexibility of the hamstring musclesPhys Ther. Sep 1994;74(9):845–850; discussion 850–842
  3. Herda TJ, Cramer JT, Ryan ED, McHugh MP, Stout JR. Acute effects of static versus dynamic stretching on isometric peak torque, electromyography, and mechanomyography of the biceps femoris muscleJ Strength Cond Res. May 2008;22(3):809–817
  4. Nelson AG, Guillory IK, Cornwell C, Kokkonen J. Inhibition of maximal voluntary isokinetic torque production following stretching is velocity-specificJ Strength Cond Res. May 2001;15(2):241–246
  5. Nelson AG, Kokkonen J, Arnall DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performanceJ Strength Cond Res. May 2005;19(2):338–343.
  6. Power K, Behm D, Cahill F, Carroll M, Young W. An acute bout of static stretching: effects on force and jumping performanceMed Sci Sports Exerc. Aug 2004;36(8):1389–1396
  7. McHugh MP, Nesse M. Effect of stretching on strength loss and pain after eccentric exerciseMed Sci Sports Exerc. Mar 2008;40(3):566–573
  8. Brandenburg JP. Duration of stretch does not influence the degree of force loss following static stretchingJ Sports Med Phys Fitness. Dec 2006;46(4):526–534
  9. Siatras TA, Mittas VP, Mameletzi DN, Vamvakoudis EA. The duration of the inhibitory effects with static stretching on quadriceps peak torque productionJ Strength Cond Res. Jan 2008;22(1):40–46
  10. Babault N, Kouassi BY, Desbrosses K. Acute effects of 15 min static or contract-relax stretching modalities on plantar flexors neuromuscular propertiesJ Sci Med Sport. Mar 2010;13(2): 247–252
  11. Manoel ME, Harris-Love MO, Danoff JV, Miller TA. Acute effects of static, dynamic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle power in womenJ Strength Cond Res. Sep 2008;22(5):1528–1534
  12. Fowles JR, Sale DG, MacDougall JD. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexorsJ Appl Physiol. Sep 2000;89(3):1179–1188
  13. Sekir U, Arabaci R, Akova B, Kadagan SM. Acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on leg flexor and extensor isokinetic strength in elite women athletesScandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports. Apr 2010;20(2):268–281
  14. Behm DG, Kibele A. Effects of differing intensities of static stretching on jump performanceEur J Appl Physiol. Nov 2007;101(5):587–594 
  15. Hough PA, Ross EZ, Howatson G. Effects of dynamic and static stretching on vertical jump performance and electromyographic activityJ Strength Cond Res. Mar 2009;23(2):507–512
  16. Ce E, Margonato V, Casasco M, Veicsteinas A. Effects of stretching on maximal anaerobic power: the roles of active and passive warm-upsJ Strength Cond Res. May 2008;22(3):794–800
  17. Young W, Elias G, Power J. Effects of static stretching volume and intensity on plantar flexor explosive force production and range of motionJ Sports Med Phys Fitness. Sep 2006;46(3):403–411
  18. Fletcher IM, Anness R. The acute effects of combined static and dynamic stretch protocols on fifty-meter sprint performance in track-and-field athletesJ Strength Cond Res. Aug 2007;21(3):784–787
  19. Kistler BM, Walsh MS, Horn TS, Cox RH. The acute effects of static stretching on the sprint performance of collegiate men in the 60- and 100-m dash after a dynamic warm-upJ Strength Cond Res. Sep 2010;24(9):2280–2284
  20. Wilson JM, Hornbuckle LM, Kim JS, et al. Effects of static stretching on energy cost and running endurance performanceJ Strength Cond Res. Sep 2010;24(9):2274–2279
  21. Robbins JW, Scheuermann BW. Varying amounts of acute static stretching and its effect on vertical jump performanceJ Strength Cond Res. May 2008;22(3):781–786
  22. Taylor KL, Sheppard JM, Lee H, Plummer N. Negative effect of static stretching restored when combined with a sport specific warm-up componentJ Sci Med Sport. Nov 2009;12(6):657–661
  23. ACE Personal Trainer Manual 5th Edition

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