It’s already tricky enough to schedule even a general fitness routine into our daily lives, but it is worth making time to add flexibility training? It will increase your range of movement, which will allow you to do groovy things, like our friendly neighbourhood Spiderman.
That’s right beloved reader; the unspoken promise suggested by the geeky title of this blog will be fulfilled. We will be covering the nerdy and the cool, in very constructive ways.
So why would we ever want to bother stretching?
For our aforementioned geeky purposes, flexibility training is justified thus: increased range of movement via stretching = agility, or in hardcore adventurer terminology; DEX. Having a high dexterity score gives us a better armour class, improves our balance and even helps with nefarious talents such as lock picking.
However, in that place with awesome graphics and crappy gameplay; the real world:
It decreases muscle stiffness and increases range of motion, which will also slow the degeneration of joints.
A flexible muscle is less likely to become injured from an extensive movement. So you won’t pull anything whilst busting web slinging maneuvers, or awesome kung-fu kicks.
It helps relieve post-exercise aches and pains. After a hard workout, stretching the muscles will keep them loose and lessen a shortening and tightening effect that can lead to DOMS. reducing muscular tension and enhancing muscular relaxation. Habitually tense muscles tend to cut off their own circulation resulting in a lack of oxygen and essential nutrients. So for the bodybuilders reading, stretching will actually assist in increasing muscle mass.
It’s just common sense that a flexible joint requires less energy to move through a wider range of motion, a flexible body improves overall performance by creating more energy-efficient movements. Therefore improving speed. Yay.
Now that everyone’s common sense is tingling, let’s cover the different ways to produce this hyperbolic effect
Static stretching is the most commonly practiced. The muscle groups are stretched without moving the limb itself and the end position is held for 20 to 30 seconds. It’s this kind of stretching that I would recommend for the reader who wants the fitness benefits with the least hassle getting them. Keep it simple. Incorporating these into your fitness routine is easy, just perform one stretching exercise per muscle after the muscle’s been worked, it’ll fit nicely into the rest period between exercises / sets.
This category also includes static active stretching which is an effective way to increase active flexibility. It requires the strength of the opposing muscle groups to hold the limb in position for the stretch. Yoga is a good example of static active stretching. However, static active stretching is not recommended before a sporting event, it’s most effectively applied after training.
Dynamic stretching uses speed of movement, momentum and active muscular effort. Unlike static stretching the end position is not held. It is similar to ballistic stretching except that it avoids bouncing motions and tends to incorporate more activity-specific movements. Arms circles, exaggerating a kicking action and walking lunges, are examples of dynamic stretches. A walking lunge dynamically stretches the hip flexors by emphasizing hip extension and can reduce muscle tightness around the hip-joint necessary for competition, a good warm-up for martial arts competitors.
Dynamic stretching is useful before competition and has been shown to reduce muscle tightness which is one factor associated with an increase occurrence of musculotendinous tears and strains. If you don’t mind looking ridiculous, you may want to try this out.
Ballistic stretching involves active muscular effort similar to dynamic stretching. However, ballistic stretching uses a bouncing or jerking movement to increase the stretch.
Ballistic Stretching isn’t recommended, it is a prescription for injury – muscle pulls, muscle strains, and muscle tears can all result from ballistic stretching. You can also end up with tendon, ligament, and joint trauma from such aggressive stretching.
An advanced form of flexibility training that must be prescribed with caution, it is useful for developing extreme range of motion associated with martial arts, ballet and gymnastics.
An isometric, or static contraction occurs when tension is created in the muscle group without a change in its length. A chair, wall, the floor or a partner can act as the resistance to bring about a static contraction and isometric stretch.
Aside from increasing range of motion, a second purpose of isometric stretching is to develop strength in stretched positions.
How Isometric Stretching Works
When a muscle is stretched, some muscle fibres are elongated while others will remain at rest. This is similar to the “all or none” principle of muscle contraction. The greater the stretch, the more individual fibres are stretched fully (rather than all fibres being stretched to a greater extent). When a muscle, that is already in a stretched position, is subjected to an isometric contraction, additional fibres are stretched that would have otherwise remained at rest. Those resting fibres are pulled on from both ends by the muscle groups that are contracting. Fibres already in a stretched position (before the onset of the isometric contraction) are prevented from contracting by the inverse myotatic reflex and stretch to greater extent.
Isometric Stretching Guidelines
Here are the general guidelines that must be followed if isometric stretching is to be beneficial…
1. Leave 48 hours between isometric stretching routines.
2. Perform only one exercise per muscle group in a session.
3. For each muscle group complete 2-5 sets of the chosen exercise.
4. Each set should consist of one stretch held for 10-15 seconds.
Last but not least we have PNF stretching
PNF stretching, (or proprioceptive muscular facilitation) is one of the most effective forms of flexibility training for increasing range of motion. PNF techniques can be both passive (no associated muscular contraction) or active (voluntary muscle contraction). While there are several variations of PNF stretching, they all have one thing in common – they facilitate muscular inhibition. It is believed that this is why PNF is superior to other forms of flexibility training. Both isometric and concentric muscle actions completed immediately before the passive stretch help to achieve autogenic inhibition – a reflex relaxation that occurs in the same muscle where the golgi tendon organ is stimulated. Often the isometric contraction is referred to as ‘hold’ and the concentric muscle contraction is referred to as ‘contract’.
Now I will science your face off
When a muscle is suddenly stretched, the nervous system sends out a flag called the stretch reflex, also known as myotatic reflex. This reflex causes the muscle to contract, thus, putting a block on any further increase in amplitude to protect itself from harm. However, through training, the critical point at which this reflex is fired can be reset to a higher level. Also, with increased stretching over time, the number of muscle sarcomeres is thought to increase in series. These new sarcomeres are added onto the end of the existing myofibrils.
With increased stretching over time the fascial sheaths encasing your muscles – the epimysium, endomysium, and perimysium may undergo semi-permanent change in length. Other tissues adapting to the stretch include tendons, ligaments, fascia, and scar tissue.
Another theory suggests that muscle cells may control and modulate stiffness and elastic limit co-ordinately by selective expression of specific titan isoforms. Meaning, some muscular tissue in the body is better suited for flexibility increase than others.
Stretching is thought to stimulate the production and retention of gel-like substances called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). These GAGs, along with water and hyaluronic acid, lubricate connective tissue fibers, maintaining a critical distance between them. This prevents the fibres from touching one another and sticking together. As a result, excessive cross-linkages are not formed.
Now that you are all suitably scienced up, proceed on your way to agility
As we like to keep our training efficient at Level Up, perform static stretches, with a few isometric stretches for good measure at the end of a resistance workout. Not only does it save on time, but also yields the greatest flexibility results, various studies and my own personal knowledge and experience support this. When performing this routine, work up gradually. Move into the stretch slowly until you only just feel the stretch then hold it for 20 to 30 seconds. If you force the stretch too far or over train to get results faster, you may end up damaging ligaments and tendons. EEK.
Each new stretching session push the stretch a little further, build gradually and avoid injury. Train hard but train conscientiously. This is the very same regime the your friendly neighbourhood Rogue Advisor followed to achieve box-splits. It works.
Adductor stretch: These aren’t like dynamic lunges for hypertrophy, lower your body slowly, being sure to keep your back straight as possible throughout. Keep the leg to be stretched bolt straight and locked in position. As with all stretches hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Hamstring stretch: This will be the toughest, hamstrings are tightened on a daily basis; when we are seated and walking are enough to reduce their flexibility. Persevere beloved reader.
Calf Stretch: only hold the wall for balance and keep both feet completely flat on the floor. The leg of the rear calf being stretched must be kept bolt straight and locked in position.
Quadriceps stretch: Unlike with the other stretching exercises, you can make an exception with the tough and durable quadriceps, and really pull the stretch with all your might.
The splits: That’s right, beloved reader, the ultimate flexibility attainment. Your friendly neighbourhood Rogue advisor searched high and low to find a decent and safely instructed video to demonstrate how to achieve this. Diagrams will not suffice. But worry not! yours truly discovered this exceptional Australian Martial artist, Mr Rick Spain.
For more on stretching and flexibility, check out: Stretching Scientifically by Tom Kurz, The Anatomy of Stretching by Brad Walker and for the Martial artists among you, Ultimate Flexibility: A Complete Guide to Stretching for Martial Arts by Sang H. Kim
Until next time. Stay informed.