Stretching is a very subjective topic.
Different people respond very differently to various styles of stretching.
So heres a look at the main styles of stretching (various people/training systems may lay claim to inventing or owning some of these methods. They’re wrong.)
Static Stretching has a more appropriate name that is used by Pavel Tsatsouline in his book Relax into Stretch, he calls it “Wait Out The Tension”
And that’s an apt description of what actually happens.
You assume the stretch position and you hang out there until that position becomes comfortable and then you go a bit further.
Dynamic Range of Motion
My personal favourite so if you follow my work, the one you will be most familiar with.
There are two main ways to employ DROM.
Either moving through a full range gradually expanding that range as you warm up as shown by Dave here:
Davey in for his lunchtime iron supplements. Here he’s warming up using a lateral lunge to dragon lunge step. Focus is keeping the static foot flat on the floor and alternating between stretch loading the adductors/hamstring on the lateral lunge and the quads/glutes on the Dragon lunge. Big movements like this are phenomenal to warm up with. #wgfamily #mobility #warmup #ironsupplements #laterallunge #dragonlunge #irishfitfam #dublin2
Or if you wish to develop a specific range, go into the stretch and begin gently pulsing to deepen the stretch and then release it.
As shown by Karolina here:
This method can be done for very high reps to get rapid increases in mobility, but as a warm up and cool down anything that gets the joints back moving is adequate.
A bit like dynamic in that you’re moving deeper in that stretch space.
Only for contrast you’re pulling yourself deeper by contracting the opposite muscles.
So for a hip flexor stretch, you will contract and release the glutes, for a Hamstring stretch you’d pulse the quads.
The works on reciprocal inhibition where if a muscle on one side of a joint is pulling, the opposite side will relax to allow movement.
Basically dynamic range of motion but on steroids.
This is using force to ballisticly load the tissues in their end range, going way beyond your voluntary range of motion.
Leg swings would be an example.
This is very effective but should be built up slowly, start your practice in a range of motion that you can barely feel, them gradually increase both speed and amplitude.
Dynamic hamstring stretches As taught to me by a Wu Shu expert many years ago. He emphasised the downward portion of the movement, you’ll hear my exhale as I do the same This strong contraction from a lengthened position aids in end range strength development. The best thing about this stretch is the feeling that you’re in a kung fu training montage….. Quick word of warning, make sure to get well warmed up for these. While they are very safe to practice, do a few rounds of low kicks before gradually working higher. I can go higher than shown here, but I’ve a lot of tightness in the body from the weeks training so have chosen to limit the height. #wgfamily #ourrescue #hyletenation #hamstrings #dynamicstretch #mobility #flexibility #kungfu #wushu #martialarts #muaythai #bjj #mma #irishfitfam #ikff
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Which is a real conversation killer if you say it at a party!
This is the physio’s favourite.
In Contrast, you flex the opposing muscle to the one you stretch.
In PNF you flex the one you are trying to stretch.
So if you’re stretching your Bicep, you go to the stretch position and them try to bend your elbow.
This typically sucks, but it does work.
There are more than these, I may add them to this post as and when I remember them, but these are the key players.
Why do they work?
If I’m honest, we don’t really know, the research changes every few years proving then disproving various theories on why it works.
At the moment we’re pretty confident that we’re simply telling the brain and nervous system that these ranges of motion are safe to access and it can let the muscles allow the joints to go there.
This fact is why using the strength (PNF/Contrast) and movement methods (DROM/Balistic) generally have quicker and longer lasting results than passive or static stretches.
Perhaps a better question is, what do you mean by “Works” ?
Are you looking to acheive a certain position?
If so how much flexibility do you need, and what is preventing you getting into that position?
Are you looking for maximum bendiness?
Are you looking for good all round mobility?
Are you coming back from injury?
As with everything, the best training is found by reverse engineering from your goal to your current status.
So if the goal is to acheive the splits, and right now I can’t even swing my leg over the bar. At least I have my start and end points in place and can begin to plot a journey.
No end goal, even a temporary end goal, no journey.
But for general Joe, what works best?
General Joe just needs to move well. End of.
He needs to work on dynamic range of motion most of the time. Its what we use as our warm ups and is a fair description of the Anatomy in Motion protocols.
After training a spot of PNF or Contrast work to the areas he feels tightest
And maybe a bit of static in the evenings in front of the telly.
Athletes will require more targeted work.
Specific stretches to allow for smoother/less restricted movement in the planed required by the sport. Or to balance and recover from the rigours of the sport.
I’ll go into specific stretches for specific muscles in another post.
Most people have some awareness of the common stretches, so start there.
Whatever position you assume take a minute to explore within that position to find the tightest line or lines and that is where you will put in most of your time and energy.
Now, get to it!