How to Effectively Stretch
When it comes to training we can be motivated to just crack straight into the workout. However, when it comes to stretching it's often an afterthought which can lead to muscle tightness, knots and imbalances within a joint range of motion.
If we put the same emphasis on stretching as we do completing a workout, these benefits could be experienced:
Increased range of motion
Decreased risk of injury
Decreased muscle soreness and joint pain
Methods of stretching
There are various methods of stretching that can be useful depending on our particular needs. For example if your goal is to perform you won't want to do passive stretching before your effort as it desensitises the muscle and reduces the muscles excitability. A more useful option is dynamic stretching. Here are some methods of stretching:
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
For most of us that want to increase our general flexibility, passive stretching is most accessible and practical. This would be holding a stretch passively without any bouncing or movement at a point where the perceived tension is a 8-9 out of 10. In order to create change in the muscle length, this stretch should be held for no less than 2 minutes.
What needs stretching?
Knowing how and what to stretch is a good place to start.
Asking yourself questions like “where am I tight?” or “which movements and positions are harder for me to get into?”, can be empowering. Learning what the joints, muscles and tendons are called does take some proactivity - the upshot is you can be rewarded for your efforts with better movement and a balanced physiology.
Is ‘something’ better than nothing?
This assumes that one is tight and needs a lot of lengthening of the muscles through different types of stretching yet that may not be the case for everyone. Some people are naturally flexible or even hypermobile, in which case they are served better with activating and strengthening muscles specifically in those end ranges of motion (mobility). For example, someone who has very loose (flexible) hamstrings might have a hard time staying activated in a deadlift. They likely do not need more stretching of their posterior chain.
There is little use in spending time stretching muscles that need it least. A good example of this is the pigeon stretch. Often pigeon stretch is viewed as a relaxing and passive go-to stretch after training. However, this is quite possibly the least needed stretch for anyone that spends their day sitting down a lot as the flexed hip position is compounded.
A better option may be to active the glute muscles (that are often not firing due to extended periods of sitting) and stretch the antagonist muscles at the front of the body using the ‘couch stretch’.
The best stretches for you are dependent on your current joint ranges of motion and likely correlate to the positions that you spend most of your time in during your day. There is no inherent “bad” position but spending too long in any one position can create imbalances.
Here is a table with some options based on common deficiencies we see in our gym:
Wall calf stretch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lC6iHKAuhJM
Couch stretch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_-u50qtayk
Arch hold (activation)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prz7jmsyOaQ
ATY stretch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zuew8R0gUc
Shoulder extension https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vztkTr4g904