Monday, February 25, 2008

Athletes Need A Comprehensive Flexibility Program

When someone says, "You need to stretch out before you workout," what does that mean? Well, you might get five different answers from five people. First, you need to know the different kinds of stretches available to you.

Then, depending on your athletic goals, choose the best flexibility program for you. You might need assistance from a fitness professional if you are rehabilitating an injury. Let's start by defining the different types of stretches:

Static Stretches - It is better to do static stretching after your game or workout (perform dynamic flexibility routines before a game or workout). Static stretches are performed without movement. The individual gets into and holds the stretched position for 20-30 seconds. The different types of static stretches are:



1. Passive - This type of stretch requires you to use another person or object to assist you. The person who assists you should be careful when applying the stretch and any object used should be stable. The advantage of this type of stretching technique is that it allows you to reach a greater range of motion. Passive stretching is often used to stretch the chest and shoulders.

2. Active - Active stretching uses opposing muscles (antagonists) to stretch the targeted muscles (agonists or prime movers). The opposing muscle is contracted and the targeted muscle is relaxed and stretched. Lifting your leg straight out and holding that position while standing is an example of an active stretch.

3. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation(PNF) - This type of stretching should be used with great caution. Your partner should also be knowledgeable about PNF stretching techniques. This type of stretching is good for targeting specific muscle groups, increasing range of motion and improving strength.

The hamstring stretch is good for applying this stretching technique. While lying on your back, you would contract your hamstrings while your partner holds your leg in place during the stretch. The stretch would last for about 5 seconds. The hamstrings are relaxed, the partner then immediately and safely pushes the muscle group past its normal range of movement for 20-30 seconds. That would be one repetition.

Rest for about 30 seconds and repeat 3-5 times. Many athletes have trouble with nagging hamstring injuries.



4. Isometric - This form of stretching is similar to passive and PNF stretching except that the contractions are held longer. Isometric stretching is very demanding and is not recommended for children or adolescents still growing.

Only one isometric stretch per muscle group should be performed. An example of an isometric stretch would be to contract the calf muscles for 10-15 seconds during the leaning calf stretch. Relax for 20 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

Static stretches should be done after your workout to return your muscles to their normal length.

Dynamic Stretches - Dynamic stretches are performed with movement. The individual uses movement to increase range of motion and flexibility. The different types of dynamic stretches are:

1. Ballistic - I do not recommend this type of stretching because it uses rapid bouncing and swinging motions to force the body part past its range of motion. Other forms of stretching are available and less risky.

2. Dynamic - This type of stretching uses controlled movements to increase range of motion. Unlike ballistic stretching, the body part is never forced past the joints normal range of movement.

Shuffles, backpedals and running-in-place are exercises that can be used during a dynamic warm-up. Research shows that a dynamic warm-up prepares an athlete's body best for competition.

3. Active Isolated - This type of stretching works by contracting the opposing muscle group which causes the stretched muscle group to relax. The stretch is held for 2 seconds. Repeat the stretch 5-10 times.

Stretch it out good!

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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES
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