In Part 1, we took a look at the benefits of stretching before and after exercise and training sessions. Hopefully it motivated some of you to re-examine your own routines and make sure you’re making enough time to take care of your body. In Part 2, we’re going to take a look at some techniques and tools to increase flexibility, improve performance, and reduce the risk of injury.
Everyone has seen someone at the gym rolling on a foam roller. We often look at someone using a piece of equipment that might be “foreign” to us and se them as the expert. Chances are, they’re doing it wrong. “Foam rolling” sounds very passive. In reality you should look at it as “smashing” in order to achieve the desired effect. Press into your healthy muscles as hard as possible to increase blood flow to the muscle, relax the tissues, and remove knots. If you come across a knot, spend a little extra time in that spot to work it out.
Remember: it doesn’t have to be with a foam roller. Stick rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, etc can all be used to roll out the muscle belies. Some tools can pinpoint knots better while others are able to concentrate on an entire group of muscles at once. Mix it up.
This is what everyone thinks about when “stretching” comes to mind. and their are essentially two types: Active and Passive. Active static stretching involves applying the force to the muscle by yourself to increase the intensity of the stretch. In a passive static stretch, a partner helps apply pressure to up the ante. I’m a bigger fan of Active stretching for a couple reasons. 1) Your partner can’t feel the stretch; you do. It’s all too easy to get put into a position where a muscle gets strained because you get pushed too far. 2) Applying the pressure yourself might help you contract/ relax the right muscles and amplify the effect.
Dynamic stretching or dynamic warm-ups are continuous movement designed to increase the heart rate so blood is supplied to the tissues, mimic the movements about to be performed when training, and increase the range of motion for the workout. There are way to many warm-up drills to get into in this article but if you’ve seen someone doing high knee runs, butt kicks, or grapevines, you’ve seen someone dynamically stretching.
ACTIVE ISOLATED STRETCHING (AIS):
Active Isolated Stretching involves applying pressure to a certain muscle group during a stretch for 2-3 seconds then backing off… then re-applying pressure, then backing off. The principle behind this technique is that having experienced and intense stretch during the first push, the muscle will realize that length is safe and allow you to go a little further, before it contracts out of fear of tearing. This kind of stretching should be done for sets and reps at each crucial muscle group and joint.
This technique uses repeated bouncing movements to trigger your muscles stretch-reflex. While critics have dismissed it as a quick way to get injured pre-workout, when applied to a “warm” muscle, ballistic stretching is safe and effective… especially when done at lower speeds. Again, warm-up a little beforehand to prepare for this aggressive kind of stretch.
PRPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION (PNF):
This type of stretch takes advantage of proprioceptive give and take between agonist-antagonist muscle group relationships. Having a partner assist you in a passive static stretch for a few seconds, then pushing against him/her, will allow muscle inhibit muscle spindle activation and enhance GTO activation. In other words, this will allow you to stretch a little further the next time. Like AIS, this should be done for sets and reps.
Whenever you stretch, think bigger. While it’s important to stretch the muscles that will be the prime movers in your workout, don’t forget about the other guys. Neglecting them, particularly if you’re in an unbalanced program, can lead to postural issues and increased risk of injury. For example, If you’re stretching the hamstrings… stretch the quads too!
Check back in next week for strategies to individualize your program and some sample stretching programs!