So, you’re heading out for a run or walk, and like many others who think they are helping to prevent an injury from happening, you decide to get a few stretches in before starting out. The first thing you probably do is grab a foot, pull it up to your buttocks, and stand there for a few seconds in the stork position. Right? In the past, this was considered a good stretch, but times have changed.
In the previous paragraphs, both static and passive stretching were briefly discussed. Now, we are going to look at several other means of increasing your range of motion.
The first, active stretching, does not use any outside assistance to achieve the stretch. In this method, you use the strength of the opposing muscle group to stretch the targeted muscle. The contraction of the opposite muscle group helps to lengthen the targeted one. The most familiar style of this stretch is the standing version of the hamstring stretch.
To do this an individual starts out standing up straight. The next step is to point one outstretched straight leg, at least waist-high, to the front. They then stand there for a predetermined time to achieve the benefit of the stretch. This is a difficult stretch to hold for a long time. It is usually held for around ten to fifteen seconds.
Some authorities believe this is a good stretch to do before beginning any lower-body dynamic stretches before an active sporting movement. Since this is similar in fashion to the static stretch, the results will be the same, i.e. a relaxed joint. This may create a potential injury situation within the joint when applying a rapid and powerful force of movement to the limb. To avoid this type of injury it is recommended that a dynamic stretch be used first to get the muscles ready for fast actions.
Dynamic stretching, as the name implies, uses movement, specifically a gentle bouncing or swinging motion to increase the range of motion (ROM) and ultimately greater flexibility at the joint. These are flowing movements, not forceful and harsh.
Upper body dynamic stretches can be as simple as swinging your arms in large circles forward and backward ten to twenty times each way. These are fast and easy to do before an upper torso exercise.
A quick lower-body dynamic stretch involves swinging your legs forward and backward and then from side to side. Fifteen to twenty of each of these will get your body ready for action.
A quick reminder is now necessary. Dynamic stretches should not be confused with ballistic stretches. Ballistic stretching can be dangerous and should only be used with extreme caution and certainly not by an adolescent or by someone with previous joint injuries.
The main issue with ballistic stretching is the muscle does not have enough time to adapt to the new range of motion because the time spent in the extended range is insufficient to elicit changes in the tissues. Another problem with this method is that it triggers the stretch reflex response within the muscle. This response automatically stops the lengthening process to protect the joint from injury due to the excessive stretch being placed on it. In short, this may be a counterproductive practice that will not succeed in improving your ROM.