Most people are surprised to learn their stretching routine is actually hindering their performance and making them more prone to injury. To better answer the question of when to stretch its important to first have a basic understanding of the various types of stretching techniques available to you. Each technique offers its own set of advantages as well as limitations and determining which to use depends on a variety of factors such as; your goals for stretching, time of day, age, etc. We will start by explaining the different stretching techniques and the benefits and limitations of each.
Static Stretching: Static stretching is probably the most well known and most often performed type of stretching. Essentially, static stretching means stretching with no movement. The muscle is stretched to the point of tension and is then held for a set amount of time. A common example of this is bending over to touch your toes to stretch the hamstrings. In general, static stretching helps maintain flexibility and joint range of motion as we age. If done properly and in the right frequency, static stretching can help to improve flexibility by lengthening muscles. Static stretching is particularly useful for those who are inactive and/or older as it is easier to perform. Because muscles are very resilient to long term increases in length gain is recommended that a stretching program be followed at least 6 days per week, be held for 10 to 60 seconds, and only be done after the muscle has been warmed up. Static stretching does have its limitations. Research has shown that static stretching should never be performed before any type of exercise as it actually increases your risk for injury by impairing the muscles ability to perform at its max.
Dynamic Stretching: The opposite of static stretching is dynamic stretching. With dynamic stretching the muscle(s) are actively brought through a safe full range of motion with the goal of warming up the muscle(s) and joint(s) and preparing them for activity. An example of a dynamic stretch is performing arm circles such as is done by swimmers before hopping into the pool. When done properly dynamic stretching warms up the body by elevating your core and muscle temperature and increasing joint laxity all which make performing activity much safer. The only real drawback with dynamic stretching is that it is not as effective at lengthening muscles as is static stretching.
Ballistic Stretching: This form of stretching is probably the least understood form of stretching and is potentially the most dangerous. Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic stretching except that ballistic stretching uses more of a bouncing or jerking type of movement to force the muscle beyond its normal range of motion and thereby lengthen the muscle. An example of a ballistic stretch is bending over to touch your toes and using a bouncing motion to force your hands further to the ground. Although effective at increasing range of motion ballistic stretching has been associated with increased rates of injury. Ballistic stretching should be used extremely cautiously and only in the presence of someone who knows how to perform it safely.
To sum it up, dynamic stretching should be your preferred method for stretching before any type of activity as it warms up your body, muscles and joints and prepares you for the activity you are about to perform. Static stretching on the other hand should only be performed after your muscles have been warmed up and you are done with your activity as this is the safest time to lengthen muscles. Ballistic stretching should be used sparingly and only by those who have a good understanding of how it should be performed as it could easily lead to injury if done incorrectly.
If you have more questions regarding how and when to perform the various types of stretching we would be happy to assist you. Call us today at 619-281-7800 to schedule your appointment.