What if I pointed out there was a way to improve every aspect of athletic performance in just a few minutes every day, with little or no effort, but it’s regularly ignored by a huge amount of gym goers? Mobility work is what I’m talking about. Studies show that stretching can increase biomechanical efficiency, reduce the risk of injuries and improve muscle relaxation as well as improve muscle extensibility. There are several different ways to stretch and the benefits vary just as much as the modalities. Understanding how to effectively implement the different stretching techniques can dramatically increase, or decrease effectiveness. In this article I will provide a basic explanation of the most common stretching modalities and strategies for using them effectively.
Dynamic Stretching is when a full range of motion is achieved but moved through slowly, or at a controlled moderate pace instead of being held. Studies show that dynamic stretching before a workout can effectively reduce the risk of injury during the workout as well as increase strength and power. Just about any movement pattern can be considered a dynamic stretch, squats, lunges, trunk twists or even something as simple as reaching overhead could be considered a dynamic stretch. It’s best to do dynamic stretches before a workout that mimic the movement patterns that will be performed during the workout. For example, doing a light set of squats with full range of motion is a good way to get ready for heavy squats.
Static stretching is generally the most common modality. This is when a stretch is achieved and then held for a short period of time, usually about twenty to thirty seconds per bout. More short and long term increases in mobility can be achieved with increased time in the stretch, but the benefits taper off dramatically after about one minute per muscle group per day. It usually comes as a shock to most people when I tell them doing static stretches before a workout statistically increases the likelihood of an injury during the workout. There is an exception is for older populations, but for the general population static stretches are safer and more effective towards the end of a workout.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or P.N.F. stretching involves cycles of activating and relaxing a muscle group while maintaining a stretch. This stretching modality is the most effective way of increasing range of motion. General guidelines for P.N.F. stretching utilize a three to six second contraction of the stretched muscle followed by a ten to thirty second static stretching period. Just like static stretching, P.N.F. should be done at the end of a workout.
Implementing these techniques can go a long way to improving an individual’s mobility and athletic performance, but it’s not all there is to know about stretching, in fact it’s barely scratching the surface of what is understood about mobility. Breathing techniques, pain tolerance and other neurological activity can greatly affect range of motion. Just like any aspect of fitness, mobility is almost infinitely complex, especially when individual needs are taken into consideration. With that being said, the steps in this article should provide a good way to build a foundation. The most important thing to take from this article is that mobility work is an incredibly valuable part of any workout routine. Good luck, and enjoy your fitness journey.
For more information please consult the following sources
Teşu Adrian. “STRETCHING AND ITS BENEFITS.” Annals of the “Ştefan Cel Mare” University: Physical Education and Sport Section – The Science and Art of Movement 2.2 (2019): 88-91. Web.
Popp, Jennifer K., David M. Bellar, Donald L. Hoover, Bruce W. Craig, Brianna N. Leitzelar, Elizabeth A. Wanless, and Lawrence Judge. “Pre- and Post-Activity Stretching Practices of Collegiate Athletic Trainers in the United States.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31.9 (2017): 2347-354. Web.