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Starting Stretching

How to start stretching

Stretching may be the most demanding form of fitness but the fact still remains that it is a very imperative thing in your workout ambitions. What this means is that you have to incorporate some types of stretching in your workout. It will reduce tightness and eventually make your workout more safe and efficient. If your muscles are tight, then you are likely to experience some more problems relating to joints and muscles. The fact is that tight muscles can cause undue strain on the adjacent joints as you continue with your daily activities. If they are tight, they can also get injured.

We have to admit that very few people practice stretching. The reason for this is because stretching is uncomfortable to some and it takes time. However, it is highly recommended to avoid some joint and muscle injuries.

If you stretch the right way, then you are likely to impact on your flexibility and eventually reduce the risk of joint and muscle injuries. In this guide, we are going to talk about some of the best stretching techniques. The main aim of this guide is to help you revamp and establish your stretching routine.

What is stretching?

This is a form of physical exercise which is aimed at helping your muscles and joints get to their normal state. During the stretching exercise, a specific muscle or joint is targeted to flex and stretch it. The main reason why people practice stretching is to relax muscles and also improve their felt tone. If it is done the right way, you are likely to have some appealing results which includes a feeling of muscle flexibility, high muscle control and many more.

In fact stretching is a very natural activity that most animals and human beings practice. If you closely observe your pets and livestock after a long sleep, they are likely to stretch which is the same case with humans. Some animals also yawn when they are stretching. It doesn’t only occur after a long sleep but also after a long period of inactivity or even after exiting confined places.

This physical activity is now used even by the athletes and footballers to stretch their muscles before they start the game. There are several technics of stretching which entirely depends on the type of muscle you want to stretch. However, you should involve a qualified psychotherapist because if you use some of the techniques, they can be ineffective or even lead to hyper-mobility, permanent damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons or even instability.

The importance and benefits of stretching

The worst thing that most people do is thinking that stretching is only for the runners and Gymnasts. The reality of the matter is that we all need stretching for several reasons. At this point in time, we are going to discuss some of the most common benefits of stretching.

Mayo Clinic states some top benefits of stretching as listed below.

Improved flexibility

The main reason why runners stretch is to make their muscles flexible and at the same time impact on the joint’s range of motion. The fact is that flexible muscles can increase somebody’s daily performance. Some of the most common daily activities such as running to catch up with the bus, bending to tie your shoe races or even lifting packages becomes easier and less tiring. Another thing that you should note is that flexibility tends to diminish as you get older. What this means is that stretching can be very important to older people.

Improved blood Circulation

This is the second importance of stretching. We all know how our blood circulation can be affected if we take few hours in our bed. The good thing is that starching has been marked as one of the most effective techniques of increasing blood flow. If the flow of blood on your muscles and other important parts of the body is increases, then the muscles will be nourished and also help them to get rid of byproducts that could otherwise affect the functionality of the muscles. Additionally, improved blood circulation can help to shorten the recovery time in case you had any form of muscle injury.

Reduce pain and stiffness

As we had already stated, increased muscle tension can increase discomfort and at the same time cause pain and stiffness. The good thing is that there are several studies that supports the effect of stretching on muscle stiffness and relieving muscle pain. Some other experts claim that regular stretching can reduce the frequency and severity of muscle clamps.

Stretching lowers the risk of injury

According to research, tight muscles are more prone to injuries than relaxed and flexible muscles. This means that regular stretching can help increase the range of motion and eventually do more. With regular stretching, you don’t have to worry about hamstring or straining your shoulder when undertaking a stretch workout. You can be sure that your muscles are flexible and there are little chances of muscle injuries.

Clears your mind

There are those other experts that argue stretching releases tension in your body and your brain isn’t an exception. Even if you just take 10 minutes stretching each day, you are likely to impact on your mental health greatly. Take a good example of yoga which is made purposely to help you clear your mind. Yoga uses some forms of stretching to ease the tension in your body and eventually give you are sign of relief.

Posture

Stretching regularly is likely to help you get a better posture. If you take time every day to stretch your neck and back, you are likely to be able to stand up nice and tall. On the other side, if your muscles are tight, you are possibly going to have a hard time walking straight and tall. It may cause you to hunch over.

What types of stretching are the most recommended?

There are different styles of stretching that target different muscles. They are broadly categorized into dynamic and static stretches. Dynamic stretches involves motion while static stretches don’t involve any motion. Another thing is that dynamic stretches affect static flexibility and the dynamic stability on some degrees. At this point in time, we are going to discuss some of the top recommended stretches for general fitness purposes.

Ballistic stretching

Ballistic motion is one of the most common type of stretching. In this type of stretching, you stretch your body or limb beyond the normal range of motion and keep it there for some time. Here, it is the stretched muscles that are used as a spring which pulls you out of the prior position. It is in most cases practiced by runners by bouncing into or out of a stretched position.

One of the drawbacks for this type of stretching is that it can lead to injuries. It also doesn’t allow your muscles to adjust to and relax in the stretched position. This style is probably going to tighten the muscles up by repeatedly activating the stretch reflex.

In the case of ballistic stretching, it involves bouncing, bobbing, or jerky movements. One of the muscle segments is put in movement by active contractions of a muscle group. After that, the impetus is arrested by antagonists at the end of the range of motion. As I had already pointed, the antagonists are stretched by the dynamic motion of their counterparts.

Examples of Ballistic stretching methods

Trunk Lifter

In this exercise, you are required to practice raising the head while lying on the floor. It is aimed at strengthening the neck and at the same time stabilizes muscles which are often now strong. You are required to lie down on your tummy on the floor with your hands behind the neck. You may need the support 0f an external force to hold legs and ensure that you are doing it the right way.

While lying on the tummy, lift the head and chest vigorously. However, ensure that you don’t overwork yourself because it can cause some strains on the muscles that can lead to more problems. The partner should be there to hold the feet. In this method, you are supposed to lift the head and the chest without lifting your legs.

Leg Lifter

This is done almost the same as trunk lifter. Lying on the chest, your partner will hold your chest to ensure that you are not lifting your head on the process. After that, you are supposed to lift the legs. Your arms should be spread wide on the floor or just straight to your body. Lift both legs up and down vigorously and alternatively.

Trunk Bender

Most people confuse this method with sit-ups. It is one of the most effective methods of practicing ballistic stretching. Your legs should be straight but wide apart. Your hands should also be behind your neck. Your are required to bend your trunk back and forward vigorously in a bouncing fashion.

Upper Back Stretcher

You can sit with your legs crossed and later try to touch the head on the floor. You are supposed to do this in a vigorous movement. There are several other methods of doing back stretches. The good thing is that there are several equipment that can also help you. However, just don’t confuse inversion tables with upper back stretchers.

Trunk rotator

In this other exercise, you are supposed to stand straight with your legs close to each other. After that, spread your hands laterally. You can then do the rotator by twisting your hands to the left and then to the right. This focuses at stretching the muscles that are always not involved in motion and daily works.

Gastronemius stretcher

This is the other ballistic stretching method. In this ballistic method, you are supposed to stand on a raised surface on balls of feet. After that, lower the weight and back rapidly. If you think you needs someone to balance you, then get someone who already knows what exercise you are performing.

Single leg raiser

The next exercise is performed almost in the same position as when doing press ups. Lean front in a rest position and ensure that your both feet are in an extended position. The next thing is to raise your legs one at a time alternatively.

Arm and leg lifter

Lie down with your arms and legs extended. After that, you are required to whip your legs and your arms alternatively. Just ensure that the right arm and the left leg come up simultaneously. We usually recommend using a partner to guide you on this. 

Static stretching

This type of stretching involves you stretching a body part beyond its normal position and later holding it to that position for about 30 seconds. It doesn’t involve any form of rapid movement or bouncing. The other thing is that you feel the stretch through the entire length and center of the muscle but not in the joints.

You need to hold that part of the body in a stimulating position. However, you have to ensure that the position is comfortable. Hold it in this position for some time to stretch the muscles and later release it. The reason for this is because it is considered safe and highly effective. On the other hands, there are some of the experts that consider this type of stretching as less beneficial when compared to dynamic stretch especially when it comes to improving range of motion for functional movement. Although it can be beneficial, it is less effective in sports and activities for daily living.

As mentioned earlier, static stretching is based on neurophysiological principles with performance and better health at its core. It is very simple to practice any exercise of static stretching. In most cases, it involves holding any body part at a certain position for 20-30 seconds and later release. There are several examples of static stretching methods as described below.

Examples of static stretching methods

 Upper trunk stretcher

This is the most effective method of performing static stretching. If you want to practice this exercise, then you are first of all required to lay flat on your chest. After that, raise your hands as if you are getting up from the floor but keeping pelvis on the floor. The next thing is to extend arms.

Lower Trunk stretcher

This method is performed almost the same as Upper trunk stretching. While laying on the same position, grasp your lags and hold them for some time.

Lower Back stretcher

Sit down on a good position with your legs straight with your legs extended and toes pointed. Pull your head forward and grasp outer borders of feet.

Upper Back stretcher

This exercise is very tricky and hence you need to get someone to help you. To practice this, lie down on your back and raise your legs as if you want to take a back flip. Your head should be at the bottom and your feet above it. For effectiveness, you should point your legs on the floor. Leave your hands and arms straight on the floor.

Gastrocnemius stretcher

Performing this exercise is easy. You are just supposed to place feet on the wall, just some few feet’s high but ensuring that your body is straight. After that lean on the wall. For efficacy, you should keep your feet parallel and the heels on the floor.

Top Pointer

I bet you have been practicing this exercise several times while you were a kid. You sit on your feet while your ankles and toes are stretched backward. After that, the next move is to raise your knee from the floor slightly. If you are having hard times sustaining this move, then balance the weight with your hands at the back.

Shoulder stretcher

This is another very common method of performing static stretches. It can be performed even when you are walking. Bring the right hand at the back from above. The left hand should come to the back from bottom. After that hook fingers and hold your hands at this position for some seconds.

Dynamic stretching

This type of stretching is especially useful to sportsmen and women. It is very common in football and other forms of sports. If you choose dynamic stretching, then you have to move your body in a challenging but comfortable range of motion between one place and the other. Just bear in mind that dynamic stretching requires more from your side as to compare to the prior types of stretching. It needs a more coordinated move. However it is thought to be very effective in most of the situations.

Today, dynamic stretching is one of the most common type of stretching among physical therapists, trainers and coaches. The reason for this is because of its deceptive benefits in improving functional range motion and mobility especially in athletics and sports.

There are several people who confuses dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching. Although they seem to be closely related, the two types of stretching are different. As opposed to the ballistic stretching, this type of stretching is highly controlled and deliberate. It is also very smooth when compared to ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching is not very controlled, in fact it is uncontrolled, jerky and erratic.

As mentioned earlier, ballistic stretching has some benefits but dynamic stretching is the most recommended type of stretching. Ballistic stretching has several challenges that can lead to injuries and other worst cases.

In most cases, dynamic stretching is highly recommended as a routine before and after any athletic event. It can be used to make the muscles active before any athletic activities. It can as well be used as an active cool down activity after the event. It greatly helps to reduce the risk of injuries. Dynamic stretching involves active tightening of the muscles to ensure that the muscles are moved to the right range of motion. Here are some examples of dynamic stretching.

Knee to chest walk

This is a good example of dynamic stretching. It mimics the top of running stride. You are supposed to bring your knee toward your chest and later strike the foot on the ground. It is a good exercise especially when you want to do it while walking. Alternatively, you can alternate the legs while in a stationary mode. Just ensure that the knee cap is coming near the chest.

High Knee

This helps to warm up the hamstrings and also improve the range of motion. It can be done while alternating your legs as you walk. There are some of the people who also do it at the stationary mode but focusing on one side at a time.

Straight leg match

This is a very great dynamic hamstring stretch. Its main aim is to improve hamstring flexibility and also balance along with dynamic stabilization at the hips and the core. If you want to practice it, then stand and spread your arms. Your thumbs should also be balancing on one foot. Move your legs one at a time without folding the knee.

Butt Kickers

This exercise is a very effective warm up exercise for runners. To do this, start while you are standing straight on the floor. Later bring one heel off the floor towards your gluts. You then have to put your hands as if you are running. After that, switch to the other side.

Carioca

This exercise is used as a warm up routine which is used to warm up the hips, groin and lower back. It is highly recommended before getting to other exercises. Start by spotting a large area where you have enough room to move sideways. Your feet should also be a little wider than hip distance. You should then use your left foot to push off crossing it behind the right foot. After this, move your right foot to the side until you are back to your starting stance. Do the same with the other foot.

Passive stretching

Passive stretch is also very common today. By the word passive, it means that you are using the assistance of an outside force to help you stretch. The force can be your body weight, gravity or even another person. The need of the external force is to hold you in place when you are performing the stretch. You stretch the muscle you wants to involve and the external force will hold you in place for some time. You don’t have to strain yourself to perform passive stretching. The fact is that the person who is offering assistance may be stronger than you which could eventually cause an injury. What this means is that you have to involve a reliable person to perform this task.

I had already stated that passive stretching makes use of an applied force to assist the movement. You can offer that much required external force or get an outside personnel to help you. Examples of passive stretching includes:

Hip and knee flexion

This exercise is mainly for strengthening the hips. You can use a seated butterfly stretch which will stretch the inner thigh, lower back and the hips. Sit on the floor with the abs engaged and your back straight. The next move is to push the sole of your feet together. Then push your heels towards you. Just take deep breath as you do that.

Hips rotation

Lie on your back close to a wall and place both legs on the wall with your hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Cross the right leg over the right leg. After that, rest the two hands on the right leg . Apply pressure on the right leg. Hold the stretch for something to do with 5 minutes and later release.

Hip abduction exercise

Here you are supposed to move the leg away from the mid-line of the body. This exercise is very common. You do it every time you are getting out of bed or even getting out of your car. It is especially important for elderly people, athletes and women.

Ankle rotation

This type of exercise can be done almost everywhere. Just lie down on your back and put your legs on the air. Pull any of the knees towards your chest and lace the fingers together. After that point your toes at the ceiling and then slowly start rotating your foot on a circular motion.

Toe Flexion and Extension

Most people exercise their toe for some reasons. In case of pain, you can try toe extension. Sit upright in a chair but ensure that your feet are flat on the floor. Place one foot on the other and pull the toe up toward the ankle. Do this for some time and the pain will be relieved. You are also supposed to massage the arch of the foot as you do the exercise.

Heel Cord stretch

If you want to start on this, face the wall with one leg forward. The leg should be slightly bent at the knee. Stretch the hips towards the wall with both knees on the ground. You can hold here for some time for wonderful results.

Lumbar rotation stretcher

Lumbar rotation is aimed at relieving the back pain. To start on it, lie on the side especially on the painful side. Bend your top knee but at the same time ensuring the bottom leg is straight. The next thing here is to hook one leg on the other. You can hook the top leg on the bottom leg. Hold on to this position for some time before you releasing.

Horizontal shoulder abduction 

If you want to perform this exercise, then you are required to use a small weight and sit in a chair in such a way that you will put your hands directly in front of you at shoulder height. Reach out to the sides of your body with both hands but at the same time and hold it there for about 5 seconds. Repeat it at least ten times.

Neck Rotation

To do neck rotation, start by sitting or even standing with a straight back posture and later tilt your head forward while you are trying to touch your chin to chest. Rotate your neck clockwise while trying to reach as far as possible. Continue doing the same looking as far behind as you can.

Neck flexion

The simplest way of flexing your neck is to lie on your back and ensure that your knees are bent and the feet are flat on the floor. After that, you are supposed to lift your head off the floor.

Active stretching

With this type of stretching, you have to move the muscle you want to stretch in the opposite to direction of the other .Here you don’t need to leverage the assistance of an outside force to perform it the right way. You should just master the art and you are good to go. The muscle you are trying to stretch should be relaxed. You should rely on the other muscle to initiate the stretch.

One thing that most people will not tell you is that active stretching can be challenging especially if you don’t know how to do it. You also need a lot of effort to initiate the stretch. However, this form of stretching is considered low risk. The reason for this is because you are controlling the amount of force to subject on the muscles. The other reason is that you are not fully relying on an outside force and hence you can be able to notice when you are overdoing it and stop.

Other types of stretching

There are several other types of stretching but the above are the most common. Some others includes:

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) stretching


Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation initialized as PNF stretch…There are several benefits of performing PNF which can as well relate to the above benefits of performing other types of stretching.

Active isolated stretching-This is a part of active stretching. As we had already stated, there are several other sub branches of stretching but the fact is that they are related to the above already discussed types.

Most people don’t consider this as a stretching exercise but the reality is that it is a very good way of increasing static-passive flexibility. It is not really a type of stretching but it’s a very good and an effective way of combining two types of stretching. These are passive and Isometric stretches. Its main aim is to achieve maximum static flexibility. There are different examples of PNF stretching as explained below.

Contract-relax

It is carried forward after achieving initial passive stretch. Those muscles that were being stretched are later isometrically contracted for about 10 seconds and later subjected to passive stretch.

Other examples of PNF stretch includes: Hold-relax-swing and hold-relax-contract.

The bottom-line

You may hear your trainer or coach talking about a couple other types of stretching but the reality of the matter is that the above discussed are the main types. Most of the experts today say that you need to be active and at the same time careful to avoid injuring yourself in the name of stretching. If possible, you should get an expert to guide you when performing any type of stretching until you are used to it. This is especially the case if you are a runner or a sportsman or woman. 

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