Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stretching: The Truth

In recent years, stretching exercises have become a controversial issue, with most of the press, and nearly all of the sound bites, being against it. You would think that stretching is bad for you, rather than being a valuable tool kit in the fight against injuries and for the improvement of performance. The problem is that the buzz about stretching, as if it is one thing that everyone should do as a routine all the time, rather than being a time specific and person specific thing.

Stretching exercises are usually lumped together as one thing. This is like a tool kit of just one type of hammers. It's great if you need to pound a nail. If you need to advance a screw, you are well... just plain screwed. It is more helpful to categorize the types of stretching, in order to understand that stretching is a broad category.

A functional categorization would be:

  • Active/Dynamic the opposite muscle groups fire to stretch the muscle but in an controlled understated slower way than the intended activity. Think of a ballerina warming up at the bar or a lunge exaggerated walk. When there is a bob or bounce at the end of the motion.
  • Ballistic this is a term in the literature for when there is too great of a bob or bounce at the end of the active/dynamic stretch. The truth is that there is certain situations where this type has value and the key is in the acceleration and velocity of the bob. This motion can be gentle as a Tai Chi motion or as violent as the field goal kicker kicking footballs repeatedly into a net.
  • Passive the body part is manoeuvred into position and held there for a set length of time. However, passive stretching requires a partner, machine, object, wall, or floor to generate external force.
  • Static involves stretching a body part to a set amount without pain and holding the stretch for a set period of time. Think of a "wall push up" for stretching the calf.
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation PNM is a combination of passive stretching while simultaneously doing an isometric strengthening exercise.
  • Yoga (means “union” in Sanskrit) and it is truly a union in that it combines active and static with proprioception overload of the central nervous system.
  • Running itself has a flexibility benefit. Can you not call what happens in warm up before a hard workout a stretching exercise? Do you not feel looser in the days after certain types of workouts?

If you did exactly the same workout every day, you would quickly go stale. Staleness is the shadowy gateway to destination injury. The stretching exercises you do should be a constant work in progress that addresses the present needs of your body. Once the people with traditional media acess properly design their studies, they too will find the benefit in stretching a muscle rather than stretching the truth.

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