STRETCHING: WHEN AND HOW
Read this before you ever stretch again.
There are many terms that relate to stretching that can be confusing:
Flexibility verses Mobility
Active verses Passive
Dynamic verses Static
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
FLEXIBILITY vs MOBILITY:
FLEXIBILITY is defined as the maximum range of motion of a joint or the length of a muscle across a joint from point A to point B. This is more a structural measurement as it relates to one's maximal range of motion potential (what are your structural limits).
MOBILITY is defined as the functional capability of a joint and related muscles to move. This is more a functional measurement as it relates to one's ability to move within the maximal range of motion potential (what are your functional limits). Mobility is impacted by the temperature of the tissue. This is why a WARM UP is important prior to participating in an activity.
NOTE: You can have Flexibility of a joint or muscle (generally demonstrated through passive / assisted movement), yet not have the same Mobility of the joint or muscle (generally demonstrated through active, unassisted movement). The video below demonstrates the difference.
ACTIVE vs PASSIVE:
ACTIVE stretching is done through muscle activation, using the muscle or muscle group to go through the functional range of motion without help from an external force.
PASSIVE stretching is done through use of an external force to move the muscle or muscle group to a stretching position that exceeds the functional range of motion.
EXAMPLE: The "arm across the chest" stretch can be done both actively and passively.
STEP 1: Start by standing up straight, feet shoulder width apart. Bring one arm up to shoulder level, palm facing forward. Keeping the arm straight, move from the shoulder joint to bring the arm across the chest as far as you can toward the opposite shoulder with the goal of having the palm facing behind you. This is an ACTIVE stretch.
STEP 2: Bring your opposite (second) arm up to hook the first arm behind the elbow on the upper portion of the arm. Use the second arm to assist the first arm to the full extent of the range of motion. This is a PASSIVE stretch.
DYNAMIC vs STATIC:
Dynamic Stretching is "stretching through movement within the active range of motion." This is the type of stretching you do BEFORE a workout and can be part of the WARM UP. This helps increase the blood flow and temperature of the muscle and prepares that body part to function in the manner it will be used in. This is sometimes referred to as "greasing the groove" because you are actively putting the body part through the motions that directly relate to the upcoming use. Dynamic Stretching is most often associated with Active Stretching.
Static Stretching is a "stretch and hold." This is the type of stretching you do AFTER a workout and preferably before you go to bed. This helps to increase the length of the muscle (it increases the flexibility of a muscle). Static Stretching is most often associated with Passive Stretching.
HOW DO I USE IT TO STRETCH PROPERLY?
We don't move much while sleeping and have a tendency to sleep in contracted positions (curled up on one side or the other). During this time, muscles become contracted and joints get stiff. This can cause us to wake up achy and even in pain.
Morning stretches should be gentle movements focused on getting things moving, a/k/a "greasing the groove." Your back, hips and shoulders often take the brunt of sleeping. If you sleep with covers too tight over your feet, you can also have issues with your ankles and feet.
There are two 1-minute hanging stretches that can be done each morning using an inexpensive pull-up bar that allow you to quickly and gently release the tension in your shoulders, decompress the back, and with a little side to side twist at the waist, loosen up the hip joints. The cumulative effect of doing this daily will help improve your posture, grip strength, abs and improve the function of your central nervous system.
Decompress The Spine: Grab the bars that allow the thumbs to point behind you. Begin to "hang" from the bars and allow your pelvis to drop. It is advised that your toes lightly touch the ground. While hanging, pull your head forward to increase the stretch. Hold for 1 minute. You can make slight side to side twisting motions to help loosen up the hips.
Ab and Scapula Activation: Grab the bars that allow the thumbs to point behind you. Hollow out the abs (tighten your core and tilt the pelvis under and forward slightly to cause the abs to pull inward toward your spine). Your feet should be off the ground and held together with your legs slightly in front of you bending at the hips, verses hanging straight down). Pull up slightly to engage the scapula (shoulder blades). Hold for 1 minute.
[Demonstration Video Coming Soon!]
Before starting a physical activity, it is important to:
Warm Up: Take a few moments to do some light cardiovascular activities: a brief jog, jumping jacks, etc. This helps to increase oxygen and blood flow to muscles and other tissues that will help feed aerobic functional capacity and increase mobility.
Do Dynamic Stretches: Use active movements that "grease the groove" and run your muscles through their full functional mobility.
Post-Workout / Bedtime:
Cool Down: Never abruptly stop exercising, particularly if it involves cardiovascular function such as running. Walk it off and catch your breath. This allows for a more gradual transition from exertion to rest.
Do Static Stretches: You can do static stretches immediately following your workout. But the most important time to do them is just before bedtime. Take a moment to use passive, assisted stretches where you hold the stretch with the help of another hand, limb or other object. This helps muscles to repair in a way that will lengthen the muscles and increase flexibility by improving structural range of motion.
If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort, it is important to identify and appropriately address the cause.
You don't want to under train because you won't realize your full potential. But you also don't want to over train. If you hurt yourself and have to spend excessive time recovering, you will likely loose some of your gains as you wait to heal.
PREPARING FOR THE SIT AND REACH TEST:
EVERY DAY.... STRETCH. It is great in the morning when you first wake up, and great at night before you go to bed. Down to your toes... touch your toes... work toward being able to put your palms on the floor in front of your toes. Reach for the sky... stretch high...alternate the stretch through your hips as you reach higher with one hand, then the other.
Moving helps you be limber... Every chance you get, stop sitting and get moving. For more information on improving your "Sit and Reach" score, visit the Fitness Stretching page.