First, let’s take a look at the musculoskeletal system. Together, muscles and bones comprise what is called the musculoskeletal system of the body. The bones provide posture and support for the body and the muscles allow the body to move by contracting and thus generating tension. The musculoskeletal system also provides protection for internal organs. The bones must be joined together by something and these are joints and the ligaments. Muscles are attached to the bones by tendons. Bones, tendons, and ligaments do not possess the ability ( as muscles do) to make your body move. Muscles are unique in this respect.
So now let’s look at muscles. These vary in shape and size, and serve different purposes. Most large muscles, like the hamstrings and quadriceps, control motion. Others, like the heart, do other functions. At the highest level, the whole muscle is composed of many strands of tissue called fascicles. These are the strands of muscle we see when we cut red meat or poultry. Each fascicle is composed of fasciculi which are bundles of muscle fibers. The muscle fibers are in turn composed of thousands of thread-like myofibrils which can contract, relax, and elongate. The myofibrils are in turn composed of up to millions of bands laid end-to-end called sarcomeres. Each sarcmere is made of overlapping thick and thin filaments which are made up of contractile proteins which are primarily actin and myosin.
There are various types of stretching include ballistic, dynamic, active, passive, static, isometric, and PNF.
This uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force the body beyond its normal range of motion. This is stretching, or “warming up”, by bouncing into ( or out of) a stretched position, using stretched muscles as a spring which pulls you out of a stretched position (e.g. bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes). This type of stretching is not considered useful and can lead to injury. It does not allow your muscles to adjust to and relax in the stretched position. It may instead cause them to tighten up by repeatedly activating the stretch response.
This involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. It consists of controlled leg and arm swings that takes you gently to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches on the other hand involve “jerky” movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be slow controlled leg swings, arm swings, or torso twists. This type of stretching is quite useful as part of your warm up for an active or aerobic workout. Each exercise should be performed in sets of 8-12 repetitions. If after a few sets you feel tired, stop. Tired muscles are less elastic, which causes a decrease in the amplitude of your movements.
Do only the number of repetitions that you can do without decreasing your range of motion. More repetitions will only set the nervous regulation of the muscles’ length at the level of these less than best repetitions and may cause you to lose some of your flexibility. What you repeat more times or with greater effort will leave a deeper trace in your kinesthetic memory. After reaching the maximal range of motion in a joint in any direction of movement, you should not do many more repetitions of that movement in a given workout. Even if you can maintain a maximal range of motion over many repetitions, you will set an unnecessarily solid memory of the range of these movements. You will then have overcome these memories in order to make further progress.
This is also called static-active stretching. An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your antagonist muscles. For example, bringing your leg up high and them holding it there without anything to keep the leg in that extended position. The tension of the antagonists in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched by reciprocal inhibition. Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the antagonistic muscles. Active stretches are usually difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held to be held any longer than 15 seconds. Many of the movements that we have described in various forms of yoga are active stretches,
This is also referred to as relaxed stretching, A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner, or with some apparatus. For example, bringing your leg up high and holding it there with your hand. The split is also an example of passive stretch where the apparatus that you use to maintain your position is the floor. Slow relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles that are healing after an injury. Relaxed stretching is also very good for “cooling down” after a workout and helps to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness.
Many people use “static”” and “passive” stretching interchangeably. Note this when you are speaking to trainers or reading articles on the subject. To dot the “I” the proper definitions follow:
Static Stretching: involves holding a position to the farthest point.
Passive Stretching: An external force is created by an outside agent, either manually or mechanically, that helps you stretch.
These stretches involve resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions of the stretched muscles. It is one of the fastest ways to develop static-passive flexibility and is more effective than either passive or active stretching alone. Most people use their own bodies for the resistance. For example you might hold a ball on your foot and keep your foot from flexing while you use your calf muscles and strengthen your instep. You might also use a partner, an example of which might be to have them hold your leg up high while you attempt to force your leg back to the ground.
This is proprioceptive neuomuscular facilitation. It combines passive stretching and isometric stretching in order to achieve maximum static flexibility. It was developed to rehabilitate stroke victims. Most exercises employ isometric antagonist contraction/relaxation where the stretched muscles are contracted with a 20-second rest in between – another PNF technique.
When using stretching to warm up for other exercise you will be using static and dynamic stretching, You will need joint rotations and some light aerobic activity. Joint rotations start with fingers and knuckles and proceed to wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, trunk/waist, hips, legs. knees. ankles and finally toes.
Static stretching should begin with your back and go on to the obliques (sides), neck, forearms and wrists, triceps, chest, buttocks, adductors (groin), quadriceps and abductors (thighs), calves, shins, hamstrings, and instep. Any exercise book will give you examples of all of these stretches.
Finally, we will share some stretches that you should not attempt as they can be very risky even though we have all seen others do these.
- The yoga plow- For years we ended exercise class with this one. You lie on your back and sweep your legs up and over trying to touch your knees to your ears. This is a no-no because it places stress on the lower back and more especially on your discs as well as compressing the lungs and heart.
- The traditional hurdler’s stretch- For this exercise you sit on the ground with one leg in front of you and the other leg fully flexed behind you, as you lean back and stretch the quadriceps. This stretches the medial ligaments of the knee which can result in slipping of the knee-cap.
- The traditional backbend- In this stretch your back is maximally arched with soles of your feet and palms both flat on the floor and your neck tilted back. This squeezes the spinal discs and can pinch nerve fibers in your back.
- Straight-legged toe touches- In this stretch, your legs are straight and your back is bent over while you attempt to touch your toes. Your knees may well become hyperextended if you cannot do this stretch. This will also place pressure on the vertebrae of the lower lumbar.
- Torso twists- sudden intense twists of the torso, especially with weights while standing, can tear tissue and strain ligaments of the knee.
- Inverted stretches- Any stretch where you hang upside down will increase blood pressure and may rupture blood vessels especially in the eyes. Any inverted posture can be dangerous with people with spinal problems.
Now you have the basic information. You know the types of stretches, what to stretch, and how to protect yourself by not doing risky stretches. For the sake of your flexibility and muscles learn how and what to do and then do it.