“To stretch or not?” that is the question.
There are many different types of stretching and over the years there have been different trends re:stretching.
As a practitioner with over 25 years experience I have been around before stretching became a feature of sport, I’ve gone through the fanatical stage when everything must be statically stretched, and I’ve watched the advent of dynamic stretching and the arguments against static stretching.
At present, a combination of dynamic and static stretching is advocated as most effective and best for the player.
As coaches, the most important thing re: stretching is not to teach anything which is potentially harmful to a player, and still provide them with the skill and knowledge to prevent injury, and prevent post exercise soreness through good stretching techniques.
Dynamic stretching involves actively moving parts of your body throughout their range of movement and gradually increasing reach and /or speed of movement.
In dynamic stretching, you are using controlled movements that take you gently to the end of your normal range of movement. The idea behind it is to improve your dynamic flexibility, and so is extremely useful as part of a warm up. Dynamic stretches help to “wake up” the muscles and get them ready for sport.
N.B: Dynamic stretching should not be confused with ballistic stretching, which is an attempt to force a limb beyond its normal range of movement, using the momentum of that limb.
It involves jerky bouncy movements which are dangerous and can cause injury.
Static stretching involves assuming a position at the end of your natural range and holding that position.
It does not involve any bouncing.
Static stretches relax muscles.
They are useful to relieve spasm in overworked or healing muscles in the preparation for sport and as part of the cool down after sport to reduce post exercise muscle fatigue and soreness.
Current research shows that dynamic stretching is the best way to prepare a muscle for sport, and some people have interpreted this to mean that static stretching should not be done before sport. The issue here is really just a lack of full understanding of the research.
The reason static stretching is not advocated as part of the warm up is to do with when it is performed. Traditionally teams warmed up the muscles by activity, then stood around in a circle and cooled down while they did their static stretching, and that is why they are being omitted from warm ups.
We recommend that static stretching is carried out as part of the warm up, but early on in the warm up and also intermittently between dynamic stretches. This is important as many of our sports people, are amateurs, and do not spend long hours in gyms doing static stretching and core strengthening to maintain muscle length as professionals do, sometimes they only get a chance to stretch as part of the warm up, hence our reason for advocating it.
If carried out daily as part of a flexibility program static stretches will increase overall flexibility,and help prevent injury.
The static stretches we teach are as below. There are many other variations, and many of them do NOT stretch what you might think, or be told, that they stretch.
Any warm up routine should be appropriate to your sport.
- You should only stretch warm muscles, therefore you should do 5-10 minutes of aerobic exercise before stretching.
- Stretching should be used pre-activity, to help prepare the body for sport, improve flexibility and prevent injury.
- Stretching should be done all year round to maintain flexibility.
- To avoid injury, do not bounce / jerk or use limb momentum to bring you beyond your normal range.
- Stretching should be done post exercise, as part of the cool down after sport, to help prevent muscle soreness and improve overall flexibility.
- Hold static stretches for 10-30 seconds.
Believe it or not, the best way to stay flexible is to strengthen your core muscles so that your leg and arm muscles do not have to overwork and shorten just to keep you upright.
Check Pilates, Stability Ball Exercise and Core Strengthening for more information.
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