When to Hold and When to Bounce a Stretch

During athletic activity you use many muscles in your body for both weight-bearing and power-producing movements. To prepare for sport and repair from sport your training program must include static and dynamic stretching exercises. Static stretches are often used away from practice and competition to help the body repair damaged areas of the muscle. Dynamic stretches are used before exercise to prepare the muscle to be worked. A general principle to follow when stretching is to lengthen the muscles you shorten. Whatever movement your arms, legs or trunk does to contract a particular muscle or muscle group, the opposite motion will lengthen that muscle1. This principle holds true regardless of the exercise or type of stretch.

Static Stretching (… To Hold)

The general principle states that your muscles will normally shorten when they contract, and to stretch your muscle it must be lengthened1. During static stretches you lengthen the muscle for a period of time to encourage repair and growth of of the muscle cells damaged during your training. For example, if you have a workout that involves running downhill, you have used your quadriceps (front thigh) muscle for most of this exercise. To reduce soreness and stiffness you need to perform the quadriceps stretch after practice.

Static stretches are done to maintain the flexibility of your muscles. As a general rule, you should perform them after competition or after a long practice as part of the cool-down. You will notice that it is easier to perform any stretching exercises after activity.  Your muscles and tendons become more compliant (stretchable) after exercise because your core temperature is increased. This can make it safer to perform stretches that are held for a long time after the body is warmed up. It is a good idea to stretch the muscles you used during your sport but it is also important to include a complete body stretching session2. This stretching routine is also effective later in the evening after a hot shower.

Each stretch should be held for 20 – 30 seconds and should not be painful or cause injury. These stretches include the hurdler’s stretch, the calf stretch, and the chest stretch. Click on the following link for descriptions and diagrams of good static stretches.

Dynamic Stretching (… To Bounce)

In keeping with the general principle, remember that when your body moves in a direction during muscle contraction, your movements should move in the opposite direction to stretch it1. This is an excellent way to think about dynamic stretches because they are movements that prepare you to perform.

Some theories explain why the muscles need explosive activity to prepare for exercise. First, when you land during an athletic movement (i.e. contacting the ground in jumping) your muscles and tendons of the leg are pre-activated to anticipate your landing forces. This pre-activation limits the amount your muscles fibers lengthen (i.e. increases stiffness). This increased stiffness is essential to performance because it creates less flexion (give) of your ankle, knee, and hip joint when you land. This means less contact on the ground and faster return to movement4. The shorter ground time means you can shorten and lengthen your muscles faster so more power is produced during the shortening phase. The result is that you can push off with more force.

Dynamic stretches are vigorous exercises and need to be performed after you are completely warmed up. These stretches can be done with equipment (i.e. 6-8 hurdles) or the use of your own body weight. The goal of these stretches is to increase core flexibility, specifically in the hips. Safe dynamic stretching can include light bouncing at a medium speed to the limits of your range of motion. You can add some callisthenic exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks into your warm-up also4. A common exercise that athletes also use after stretching are running drills because they increase stiffness towards normal levels with the ground contacts. Click on the following link for descriptions and diagrams of good dynamic stretches.

These principles of stretching can be applied to any exercise and any muscle groups. They are effective in both static and dynamic stretching exercises. The basis is always to figure out which muscles are contracting when you run, jump, turn or move different directions repetitively in a workout. Then perform the opposite movement for the muscle groups that you want to stretch1. More research is needed to decide what the best stretching protocols are for warming up to increase stiffness and cooling down to repair muscle. Try to find the best exercises that warm up your muscles, increase stiffness, and get you ready to compete.

1. Newsletter | SIRC. . http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/mid-sept07/feat1.cfm. Accessed 6/23/2008, 2008.
2. Newsletter | SIRC. . http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/mid-sept07/feat2.cfm. Accessed 6/23/2008, 2008.
3. Stretches / Flexibility Exercises with Pictures and Description. . http://www.myfit.ca/exercisedatabase/stretches.asp. Accessed 6/23/2008, 2008.
4. Newsletter | SIRC. . http://www.sirc.ca/newsletters/mid-sept07/feat3.cfm. Accessed 6/23/2008, 2008.

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