Athletes care deeply about their sports but often forget about stretching. It is overlooked by many of them and generally not valued as much as weight or endurance training.
In reality, stretching has a vital role to play in flexibility, exercise performance, muscle recovery, and much more.
Let’s dive in!
- The importance of stretching
- Where to start from?
- Different types of stretching
- Static vs dynamic stretching – which way to go?
The importance of stretching
We like to believe that hitting up the gym and doing heavy muscle or aerobic training is enough to achieve the goals we are after.
In reality, it’s not enough.
Regular stretching is something that will help us keep our muscles flexible, strong, and healthy.
Human bodies need that range of flexibility to keep their muscles to maintain a range of motion in the joints.
Without regular stretching, muscles shorten and become tight.
Once you will need to activate them during exercising, they will be too weak to extend all the way, which will put you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Where to start from?
A human body has more than 600 muscles!
But, it definitely doesn’t mean you have to stretch every single muscle you have!
The most important ones, to keep in mind, are the ones that are crucial for mobility.
For example calves, hamstrings, hip flexors in the pelvis, and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.
It is also highly beneficial to stretch your shoulders, neck, and lower back.
Consistency is the key
Stretching a couple of times per week or even once per day won’t give you magical results.
In reality, as with ordinary muscle or endurance training, you will need to do it over and over.
Staying committed to the process is crucial to see and feel the actual benefits.
It takes lots of time to get flexible, and you’ll have to continue working on it, in order to keep the progress.
Different types of stretching
Just as there are different types of flexibility, there are also different types of stretching exercises.
Today, there are 7 different types actively used among athletes.
Every style has its own purpose and way to activate the muscles in the body.
The most common types of stretches are:
– Dynamic (meaning they involve motion)
– Static (meaning they involve no motion)
Dynamic stretches affect dynamic flexibility and static stretches affect static flexibility.
Static stretching is probably the most common and widely used type among athletes and trainers.
In simple terms, it involves stretches that you hold in place for a longer period of time, without any movement.
This allows your muscles to loosen up while increasing flexibility and range of motion.
It is either used to warm up or to cool down your body after a heavy training session.
Along the years, athletes opinion of static stretches has changed from better to worse.
Michael Boyle addresses superbly the dangers of static stretching in his book New Functional Training for Sports, explaining why static stretching should never be done again.
Dynamic stretches are controlled movements that prepare the muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues for performance through a range of motion.
This form is excellent for an athlete who is seeking to improve his speed, agility, and acceleration.
It is also a safer option for athletes who have a past with joint injuries since it helps them to warm up the body’s joints and actually prevents injuries.
Static vs dynamic – which way to go?
The benefits of static and dynamic stretching have been widely discussed and debated about for years.
The recent research shows clearly the benefits of dynamic movements and the dangers of the static one.
It’s become very clear how static stretches may in reality decrease performance results for athletes.
For example, it can be seen in decreased sprint times in runners, the height of jumps in basketball players, agility in soccer players, and decreased force-production in both elite women and men athletes.
While dynamic stretching has shown positive benefits in speed, power, and agility.
Also, it has been proven and backed by research that dynamic movements decrease the risk of injury in both recreational and elite athletes.
One thing is clear – stretching itself is one of the most important things an athlete can do, to prevent injuries and prepare the body for training.
To become flexible and enjoy the benefits of stretching, an athlete needs to be patient and very persistent.
Stretching requires time and devotion, just like any other training.
So, which type of stretching to choose – static or dynamic? Ultimately, the decision is yours to make as an athlete.
It’s difficult to suggest what is right for a particular person. Both of them have their own benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind.
If you are more after flexibility, static is the way to go, since the muscle is most prone to increase in length.
If you want to prepare your body for a set of exercises, and prevent injuries or trauma, the dynamic is the best option for you.