Modern life seems to place our tissues in a state of constant contractions (which keeps our muscles in a continually shortened state) without corresponding activities to lengthen and relax these same muscles. This places our body in a state of physical imbalance, eventually leading up to Repetitive Strain Syndrome. For example, look at our typical office workers, sitting in front of their computers for eight hours a day. Their shoulders are rolled forward, their back is hunched, their neck jutting forward; their posture is poor. This results in shortened and contracted chest muscles, tension in their upper back, weak posture, headaches, and often wrist and elbow pain. With the best of intentions, these same office workers go to the gym to make themselves stronger by lifting weights and by performing aerobic workouts in the hope that they can improve their ability to better perform at work, and reduce their chance of injury. (Done correctly, exercise is very effective, since the stronger you are, the less susceptible to injury you become). Unfortunately, many of these people rely heavily on a weight program to increase their strength, resulting in yet more contractions. To their frustration, they experience slow or limited progress in their routines, and often suffer from overuse injuries. These motivated individuals often do not realize that the strength they hope to gain from these weight lifting exercises is only effective when the opposing soft-tissue structures are able to properly lengthen. They need to stretch!
Types of Stretching:The art of stretching has undergone a revolution over the last 50 years. Today, the athlete can choose from many types of stretching routines, each specifically oriented toward addressing specific needs. You can choose to perform one or more of the following categories of stretches (there are other forms as well), each with their own unique benefits.
Dynamic or ballistic stretching uses motion to gradually increase the reach and range of motion. These stretches are typically used for warming up and waking up the muscles before starting an exercise program, i.e. swinging your arms in a circle, kicking an imaginary football, or twisting from side to side.
Static Active stretching uses little or no motion to stretch the muscles of the opposing group. It is the opposite of dynamic stretching. Static active stretching requires the strength of the opposing muscle groups to hold the limb in position for the stretch, and requires no voluntary muscle involvement. An example would be holding one leg up high while balancing on the other. This type of stretching is normally done at the end of your workout to bring your body back toward a state of rest and recovery.
Static Passive stretching Is a stretch where you are relaxed and make no contribution to the range of motion. Instead, an external force is created by an outside agent (body weight, device to help you maintain the stretch. The muscle groups are stretched without actually moving the limb. These are ideal for the cool-down period of your workout. Static passive stretches should be held for about 10 seconds and 2-3 stretches per muscle group is sufficient.
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching is a combination of static passive stretching and isometric stretching. It usually requires the participation of a stretching partner. In this, your partner stretches the muscle group passively, causing an isometric contraction in the stretched position for up to 3 seconds, then relaxing the stretch, and then increasing the stretch passively with their partner and repeat.
All stretching should be kept within the realm of tissue tolerance! So, remember, stretching is not for sissies, but, it is a vital component of your overall health, along with cardio and strength training.
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