Wednesday, January 24, 2001
By Gregory "Graig" White
SJSports Physical Fitness Advisor
The main purpose of our flexibility program is to lesson the possibility of injury to our athletes. Warming up and then stretching works to prevent strains and muscle tears. The reason for warming up first is to raise the general body and deep muscle temperatures, which in turns make the muscles more pliable, lending itself to greater movement. This also aids in the prevention of muscle soreness.
Strength training and flexibility go hand in hand. There is a common misconception that there is trade off between strength and flexibility. I'm here to tell you that if you neglect your flexibility in order to strength train you will be on the losing end of that battle. One of the keys to being a great athlete is balance, a missing component to your overall conditioning protocol does no one any good.
Stretching increases performance, good flexibility means better mechanical working conditions of the whole motor apparatus. The increased flexibility will give the muscle power more time to work, that is a greater range, which leads to a higher final speed of motion and a better "flick". Speed is hindered without the use of proper stretching techniques, since the muscles have to work harder to bring about a maximum stride length . This extra work will result in a greater loss of energy. By creating and maintaining a proper flexibility base a great deal of energy can be saved, as well as increased speed and the ability to compete longer and harder.
Our flexibility protocol is meant to relax your muscles as well as your mind. There is no time limit or competition for the amount you stretch. You want to stretch in relation to your workout, tough sessions call for a greater "flex" session, but remember to stay in control and to relax.
The following are points to remember while stretching:
- Breathe deeply and relax.
- Ease into all positions.
- Everyone has different levels of flexibility.
- Never force a stretch.
- Stretch at the beginning and end of your training sessions.
- Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Never bounce while stretching or stretch beyond the point of comfort.
- Concentrate on the muscles being stretched and take them through the full range of motion.
There are several different types of stretching, they all tend to be either static, meaning they involve no motion, or dynamic, meaning they involve motion. Dynamic stretching affects dynamic flexibility and static stretches affect static flexibility, and to a lesser degree dynamic flexibility as well.
This type of stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. It consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you ever so gently to the limits of your range of motion. Dynamic stretching can be very effective as a warm up before practices and games.
Many athletes and coaches use the term "passive stretching" and "static stretching" interchangeably. However, there is a big difference between the two. Static stretching involves holding a position. You stretch and to the fullest of your range of motion and hold it there. With a passive stretch you are relaxed and do not exert on the muscle, instead the exertion tends to come manually or mechanically.
PNF is short for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, it is currently all the rage with conditioning coaches and athletes. It is also thought to be the fastest way to increase static-passive flexibility. It also the program that we utilize with all our athletes at Rutgers University, it is a combination of passive stretching and isometric stretching in order to achieve maximum static flexibility.
What we do is, take a muscle and start out with a passive stretch, then contract the muscle isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position. We then passively stretch the muscle again through the resulting increased range of motion. PNF stretching usually requires a partner to provide the resistance against the isometric contraction and then later to passively take the joint through the increased range of motion. It may be performed without a partner, has been proven to be significantly more effective with the aid of a partner. PNF stretching takes advantage of the sudden "vulnerability" of the muscle and its increased range of motion by using the time immediately after the isometric contraction to train the stretch receptors to get used to this new and increased range of motion. It is also important to note that the stretched muscle should be relaxed and rested for at least 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique. This technique is also very strenuous and should be performed on any given muscle group no more than once a day.
As it concerns you, the athlete, I need you to know that stretching is not a "luxury" but a necessity. Taking time to stretch can be a big time commitment, but is worthwhile. You should stretch everyday whether or not you workout, but stretching 3 days a week is probably enough to maintain. I can't stress enough that stretching is a major component of our over all strength training protocol, and should be given the same consideration as your lifting and eating. Athletes who are fastidious about their stretching can be assured that they will reap the benefits of increased performance and a better quality of life even after their athletic careers come to an end.