Static stretching refers to a slow, gradual, and controlled stretch through a full range of motion. This is a steady-intensity, long duration technique. Static stretching can be performed at two levels of intensity.
THE EASY STRETCH
At the beginning of a stretch, ease into a movement so that you feel a mild tension. Hold this level for 10-30 seconds and concentrate on relaxing. The feeling of tension should gradually subside as your muscles relax. If it does not, ease off slightly and find a degree of tension that is comfortable. The easy stretch reduces muscular tightness and readies the muscles for the developmental stretch.
THE DEVELOPMENTAL STRETCH
After the easy stretch, gently move a fraction of an inch further until you again feel a mild tension. Hold for 10-30 seconds. The tension should diminish. If not, ease off to a comfortable level of tension. The developmental stretch fine-tunes the muscles and increases flexibility.
Ballistic or dynamic stretching involves bouncing movements in which the end point is not held. After a thorough warm-up of the involved musculature, ballistic stretching should be performed in a rhythmic movement that mimics a specific job or sport skill (e.g., swinging an ax, sledgehammer, baseball bat, or golf club). Ballistic stretching may promote dynamic flexibility and decrease injury potential for these high-speed activities. Initially, movements should be small and gradually increased to larger ranges of motion.
NOTE: Ballistic stretching does involve a higher risk of developing soreness or injury. It should be avoided by people with a history of injury in the involved joints and reserved for sport specific training programs after a thorough warm-up and static stretching routine. It is generally not recommended for the general populations.
PROPRIOCEPTIVE NEUROMUSCULAR FACILITATION
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is an advanced stretching technique that employs alternating muscular contraction-relaxation protocols. PNF stretching can be very effective in improving joint range of motion and can also provide modest gains in strength. They are commonly used to help restore normal range of motion and strength following injury. However, most PNF exercises require the use of a knowledgeable and experienced partner.
Stretching should be done daily, before and after activity. It can also be done in short breaks throughout the day. Often, there is a limited time for exercise and stretching adequately is often neglected in favor of weight training or cardiovascular training. When this is the case, it is important to always do an adequate warm-up, proceed to an abbreviated stretching routine, emphasizing the specific muscles soon to be used, then easing into a workout of low-to-moderate intensity. Stretching between sets of weight training or during short breaks while running can be helpful. Additionally, a comprehensive, uninterrupted stretching routine of at least 20 minutes, at least twice a week, is needed to maintain good flexibility, with more needed for significant improvement.
Stretching should never be performed past the point of mild tension or discomfort. Discomfort may be more noticeable at the start of a program, but should become less prominent with subsequent sessions. Muscles should feel relaxed and loose following stretching, not sore or stiff. However, care must be taken to allow adequate recovery from all exercise routines, and to avoid “over-stretching”, or attempting to “stretch-out” minor injuries. In general, light stretching can help the healing process of many musculoskeletal injuries, but aggressive stretching can be traumatic and aggravate the injury. In the case of injury rehabilitation, it is important to follow the specific recommendations of a qualified exercise specialist or medical professional.
Recent research has indicated that aggressive developmental stretching may cause minor muscle trauma, similar to weight lifting, which requires a period of recovery. Therefore, aggressive developmental stretching to increase range of motion should not be done prior to a challenging strength training, cardiovascular workout or sports activity. A less aggressive warm-up and stretching regimen is recommended prior to these workouts, and aggressive developmental stretching is best done afterward or during a separate exercise session.