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The Importance of Stretching

Whats good friends! Welcome back to another edition of The Nerdy Athlete! Man I cannot believe that we've been at this for a month now. As always, I want to say thank you to everyone who tapped into last week's entry on The Importance of Sleep, and also a big thank you to everyone who's reading this right now. It's been a ton of fun researching and typing these posts out, and it means the world to me that you guys are engaging with these posts every week. So again, thank you!!

So, this post was originally going to be The Importance of Stretching and Foam Rolling; however, I decided to split those two topics up and come back to foam rolling next week. My goal with these posts is to keep them somewhat brief and direct - I don't want you guys to be reading these posts for 30 minutes hahahahaha. There was a ton of information between those two topics, so I just figured it'd be best to split it up for now. ANYWAYS, lets get into it!!

We Love A Good Stretch!!

Man, in my opinion, stretching is one of the best things of all time hahaha. From the time we all started playing sports as a kid, every single one of our coaches has lectured us on the importance of stretching. I remember my high school football coach was always on our ass about “going through the motions” during warm ups and not taking our stretching seriously - and me, being the hard-headed angsty 17 year old I was, would always get pissed off hahahah. That warm up period was strictly meant for shooting the shit with the homies in my mind lol. I was always told that I needed to take our stretches seriously, but was never told why. As I’ve said before, education creates purpose, and purpose yields results.

I’m positive we’ve all been there. I mean hell, those stretching lines before practice can seem so tedious and monotonous lol. It wasn’t until I started my education at Willamette that I truly began caring about my warm ups. Learning about injury risks and how our muscles react to the stimuli that we expose them to during strenuous exercise really made me want to go back in time and slap some sense into my high school self. Stretching is important because stretching helps to keep our muscles flexible and strong - stretching prevents our muscles from adapting to a shortened position. When a muscle shortens in length, the range of motion of the joint that muscle influences decreases. For example, if you have really tight and shortened pecs, then you will have decreased overhead ROM in your shoulders, because your pecs influences the ROM of vertical abduction at the glenohumeral joint (shoulder). Tight muscles increase the risk of joint and muscle strains as well due to this decrease in ROM. If muscles are tight around a joint and that ROM is significantly decreased, and that individual tries to push into a greater ROM while loaded (ex: very tight pecs while doing a wide grip bench press), it makes sense how the risk of the muscle strain or tendon rupture increases dramatically.

Stretching is always awesome, but not all stretching methods are awesome all the time. Let me repeat that. Stretching is always awesome, but not all stretching methods are awesome all the time. There are 7 different methods of stretching, and each method has its pros and cons in regards to flexibility and performance. Lets break them all down:

Ballistic Stretching

Ballistic stretching is a type of stretching in which an individual uses his or her own momentum to work past the initial ROM allowed by a muscle group (MIT). In other words, you are actively “bouncing” in and out of a stretch. While they may look cool and sometimes be a good warm up for non-resistance training exercises, ballistic stretching definitely has more cons than pros according to the research. Ballistic stretching can increase your risk of injury, and decrease your maximum strength when performing resistance training (The pro’s and Cons of Different Stretching Methods, 2017). The rapid force produced by your muscles while bouncing in and out of a forced increased ROM can cause muscle strains or joint damage due to the strong contractions while being in a deep stretch. The counter forces of the stretch and the muscle contraction at such a rapid pace, especially if those muscles are very tight, can lead to a rupture of the muscle or tendon. NO BUENO!! Nelson & Kokkonen (2001) also found that ballistic stretching before resistance training leads to a decrease in maximal strength performance for a given muscle group. Do with this information what you will hahahaha.

Here is an example of a ballistic stretching routine:

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching involves moving your limbs through their full range of motion, gradually increasing the speed and the reach of the movement (MIT). This is different from ballistic stretching: in ballistic stretching, an individual uses their own weight and momentum to push into a deeper stretching, while a dynamic stretch simply involves moving a limb thought its full range of motion. When we think back to our stretching lines in youth sports, most of those stretches were dynamic stretches. Leg swings, arm swings, hip circles, etc. Ahh, the good old days. Dynamic stretching may lead to an improvement in muscle performance (Yamaguchi & Ishii 2005). Dynamic stretching is awesome because it takes your limbs through their entire range of motion (thus, stretching them) without activating the stretch response of the golgi tendons. When there is a rapid stretch in a muscle, golgi tendons send a signal to the brain that triggers a “flex” response. That flex response is awesome for lifting because as we near the end of the range of motion during a lift, that “flex” response helps us finish out the lift. Stretching out these golgi tendons before bouts of resistance training hinders performance, and thats why dynamic stretching goes so hard.

Here is one of my favorite dynamic stretching videos. There is a stretch for everyone in here!!

Active Stretching

Active Stretching involves holding one limb in a certain position using only the agonist muscle and no assistance (MIT). This might be a little hard to visualize, but an example of this stretch would be kicking your leg up and using your quads to hold it up, while also trying to touch your toes. This is an example of an active hamstring stretch. I’ll keep it a buck with you guys - active stretches are not the easiest lol. In fact, they should only be done for about 10-15 seconds (MIT). Besides, its hard as hell to hold them for much longer than that hahahaha. The purpose of active stretching is to increase the flexibility of the antagonist while also building strength in the agonist in a shortened position. So think about a back squat here with someone with tight glutes: we would want to lengthen the glutes in order to increase the ROM of the squat, while also being sure that the quads are strong enough to support a load in that new ROM. Active stretching has been observed in the literature to increase flexibility (duh), joint torque and functional mobility (Batista et al. 2009).

Here is an AWESOME active stretching routine for the upper body:

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching involves either using your own hands or a separate apparatus to assist you in holding a stretch (MIT). An example of a passive stretch in which you are using your own hands to assist in holding a stretch would be a sit and reach hamstring stretch. You are actively holding on to your foot/toes (or if you’re like me, your shin hahahah) in order to maintain that stretch of your hamstrings. When we think about stretches, I think passive stretches are typically the first stretches that come to mind. They are typically easy to do, and we always see athletes and people in the gym doing them before performing or exercising; however, this may actually be detrimental to performance. Pre-event passive stretching may have a negative impact on high-power short-term performance exercise (Nelson et al. 2005). Remember when we talked about golgi tendons? Well, here we are again. Passive stretching can stretch out our golgi tendons; thus, delaying their “flex” response. Passive stretching is, however, INCREDIBLY effective in relieving muscle cramps and muscle spasms (Schwellnus et al. 1997), but we all knew this hahaha. Ever had a charlie-horse in your hamstring? I’d bet my life the first thing you did was bend down and grab your shin to stretch it out hahahaha.

^ You shouldn't be moving in out out of the stretch so quickly, but this is an example of using your hands to pull into a stretch.

Here is an example of a passive stretching routine for the hamstrings, adductors, and IT band:

Static Stretching

A static stretch is when you stretch a muscle as far as you can through its ROM and hold that position (MIT). There are about 72637627 different types of static stretches: passive-static, active-static, etc etc etc. Basically, any stretch in which you are holding a position and not rocking in and out of it is a static stretch. Again, STRETCHING IS ALWAYS AWESOME, BUT NOT ALL STRETCHES ARE AWESOME ALL THE TIME. Static stretches happen to be one of them. A meta-analysis of 104 studies conducted by Simic et al. (2012) found that pre-exercise static stretching has a significant negative acute affect on maximal muscle strength and explosive muscle performance; however, static stretching’s affect on muscle power are unclear in the literature. Again, this is due to the stretching of the golgi tendons before strength training. Static stretching also has been long believed to be something to relieve or delay DOMS; however, the literature is rather inconclusive on that with many studies staying no and an equal amount of studies saying yes (Buroker & Schwane 1989). Static stretching has also been believed to be helpful in preventing injuries; however, the literature is very split here as well (Amako et al. 2003).

Here is an example of a static quad stretch:

Isometric Stretching

Isometric stretching involves isometrically contracting the muscles against a force causing the stretch (MIT). This one might be hard to visualize at first. An example of an isometric hamstring stretch is laying down on your back with your leg up in the air and having a partner push your leg towards your body, while you try pushing their hand away from you with your leg. Now let me just say, based on the research I did for this post, isometric stretching goes hard. You’re probably asking “well, why? How does isometric stretching work?”. MIT explains “…there is no such thing as a partially contracted muscle fiber: when a muscle is contracted, some of the fibers contract and some remain at rest (more fibers are recruited as the load on the muscle increases). Similarly, when a muscle is stretched, some of the fibers are elongated and some remain at rest. During an isometric contraction, some of the resting fibers are being pulled upon from both ends by the muscles that are contracting. The result is that some of those resting fibers stretch”. Isometric stretching trains our golgi tendons and muscle spindles to adapt to producing force in a new ROM, ultimately teaching them to produce their “flex” signals at a greater ROM. Isometric stretching is on of the better ways to develop strength in “tensed” muscles. Think about it: as we work into greater ROMs, we want to be sure that our muscles can still activate and produce the desired amount of force needed to move a load in that new ROM. Otherwise we are putting that muscle group at risk of injury when loaded in that new ROM.

^ the face you make during these lmfao

Here is an example of an isometric hamstring stretch:

PNF Stretching

PNF stretching, also known as contract-relax stretching, is a combination of passive and isometric stretching. PNF stretching “refers to any of several post-isometric relaxation stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position, and then is passively stretched again through the resulting increased range of motion” (MIT, n.d.). There are three different types of PNF stretching methods:

  • Hold-Relax

While doing a passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is also isometrically contracted for anywhere between 7-15 seconds, relaxes for about 2-3 seconds, then is passively stretched once more into a greater range of motion than the original passive stretch.

  • Hold-Relax-Contract

This technique involves both the agonist and antagonist muscle. Very similar to the hold-relax method; however, in this method, after doing the first isometric contraction of the agonist muscle, rather than doing another passive stretch into a greater ROM, the antagonists are then contracted for 7-15 seconds.

  • Hold-Relax-Swing

Involves dynamic or ballistic stretches rather than passive stretches. The Hold-Relax-Swing method is RISKY: typically should only done by advanced athletes that have impeccable control over their muscle’s stretch reflex.

PNF stretching works in the exact same way that isometric stretching does; however, that extra passive stretch with PNF stretching takes immediate advantage of the increased ROM brought on by the isometric contraction. That contraction fatigues fast-twitch muscle fibers of the contracting muscle; thus, making it harder for those muscles to contract while being stretched. You can see how these muscle fibers inability to contract while stretching would make it easier to work into a greater ROM. Just like isometric stretching, PNF stretching trains our golgi tendons and muscle spindles to be able to accommodate a greater ROM before activating their “flex” response. A study conducted by Konrad et al. (2015) found that after a 6-week PNF stretching program, not only was ROM significantly increased, but tendon stiffness was significantly decreased. Tendon stiffness can increase the risk of tendon ruptures (Lorimer & Hume 2016), so I would say that PNF stretching should 100% be apart of athletes stretching habits.

Here is an example of a PNF hamstring stretch:

All In All

Alright holy hell that was a lot of information for you guys hahahaha. I want to circle back to what I said at the beginning of this post: Stretching is always awesome, but not all stretches are awesome all the time. I think that after reading these you can see exactly what I mean by that. Of course, all stretching is going to help with our flexibility over time, but after looking at the literature it is obvious that there are certain stretching methods that may ultimately hinder our performance rather than boost it. Again, stretching is important because stretching helps to keep our muscles flexible and strong. It is vital that we keep stretching in our fitness routines and daily lives, but it is even more important that we do the RIGHT stretches for what we want to accomplish. Warming up to go squat heavy? Maybe leave the passive glute stretches out today. It's all about being smart, and I hope that I was able to provide you guys the information and examples for you all to help you do that.

Happy Monday CCTS Family. Go attack the week with everything you got!! Thank you guys for rockin' with me 🤘🏾


Works Cited

Amako, M., Oda, T., Masuoka, K., Yokoi, H., & Campisi, P. (2003). Effect of static stretching on prevention of injuries for military recruits. Military medicine168(6), 442-446.

Batista, L. H., Vilar, A. C., de Almeida Ferreira, J. J., Rebelatto, J. R., & Salvini, T. F. (2009). Active stretching improves flexibility, joint torque, and functional mobility in older women. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation88(10), 815-822.

Buroker, K. C., & Schwane, J. A. (1989). Does postexercise static stretching alleviate delayed muscle soreness?. The Physician and Sportsmedicine17(6), 65-83.

Konrad, A., Gad, M., & Tilp, M. (2015). Effect of PNF stretching training on the properties of human muscle and tendon structures. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports25(3), 346-355.

Lorimer, A. V., & Hume, P. A. (2016). Stiffness as a Risk Factor for Achilles Tendon Injury in Running Athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)46(12), 1921–1938.

MIT. (n.d.). STRETCHING AND FLEXIBILITY - Types of Stretching. Web.Mit.Edu. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from

The pro’s and cons of different stretching methods. (2017, November 3). Fitness Science.

Nelson, A. G., Driscoll, N. M., Landin, D. K., Young, M. A., & Schexnayder, I. C. (2005). Acute effects of passive muscle stretching on sprint performance. Journal of sports sciences23(5), 449-454.

Nelson, A. G., & Kokkonen, J. (2001). Acute ballistic muscle stretching inhibits maximal strength performance. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport72(4), 415-419.

P. Schwellnus, M., Derman, E. W., & Noakes, T. D. (1997). Aetiology of skeletal muscle ‘cramps’ during exercise: a novel hypothesis. Journal of sports sciences15(3), 277-285.

Simic, L., Sarabon, N., & Markovic, G. (2013). Does pre‐exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta‐analytical review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports23(2), 131-148.

Yamaguchi, T., & Ishii, K. (2005). Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research19(3), 677-683.

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