If you have attended any of our fitness classes or personal training sessions you will have been taken through some stretch-strength exercises and have been given a little into regarding their importance in your routine. No matter what your goals choosing the correct type of stretching will help you achieve them faster. The problem with stretching is that many people see it as a waste of time after they've been sweating and pushing themselves for the last 45 minutes or even worse they choose the wrong type of stretch.
The conventional methods of stretching are sadly very outdated and instead of reducing injury and helping muscle tone they infancy do the opposite.
If executed correctly you can use the timing and the nature of stretching to maximize gains in strength and flexibility.
The timing of stretching is critical to maximize the training response. Making stretching a regular component to your routine will accelerate maximal gains in strength and hypertrophy and muscle definition. However, a reduction in length and working order in fascial structures slow down hypertrophy gains and make it difficult to improve flexibility.
If you stretch with the wrong method, such as doing static stretching before resistance training, you make the muscle temporarily weak and increase the risk of injury. You also risk stimulating your Golgi-tendon organ(brain part of your muscle) and this will cause your body to 'turn off' the muscle and therefore burn less calories and recruit less fibres or cause a muscle spasm and actually reduce the rang of movement around a joint. So basically you could be burning less calories or risking injury-so why do it?!
This theory has been proven in multiple studies of various stretching activities, ranging from strength training to warming up for rugby and football. The latest study into this shows that their was a decrease in maximal strength and power of participants doing long deep static stretching prior to a resistance workout was of up to 20 percent. So effectively you are working at 80%!
PNF or low grade contraction stretching and ballistic stretching increase strength levels for workouts. The key is to perform until you feel your nervous system being activated. Using bands to stretch the joint capsules also potentiates strength and flexibility gains. You mix this with muscle activation techniques (outlined for you from your bio-mechanical assessment i may have completed for you) of any muscles that are inhibited, in most cases this is glute max/med or post deltoid, middle traps/external rotators. A simple single leg bridge or tube walking or cobra is sufficient.
To maximize your flexibility gains do a combination of stretching methods in this order: PNF, then ballistic, then static; following this method will increase strength gains and therefore muscle tone (not size unless that's your goal remember muscle size is dictated by diet and testosterone levels so women still follow this plane to shape up!). I will pay the correct method of low grade stretching and PNF stretching this week.
When using the ballistic method, use the pendulum approach, by gradually increasing both range and velocity (speed) of the stretch. A leg swing or for advanced fitness levels a squat Jump can be a fantastic warm up and cool down following this method. Although many physical therapists frown upon this method and argue that it increases the risk of injury most of them are stuck in the dark ages and have stopped trying to understand our bodies more as we come to a greater understanding of its function.
Weightlifters lift world records after progressive warm-ups. They get there by lifting heavy weights in a progressive cycle. Why not apply the same principles to stretching?
So for today make a subtle but important change. Don't bother with a long painful hamstring stretch before you begin your fitness session. In most cases you will have lengthened hamstrings but they feel tight because they are in spasm. Horrible painful deep stretches will increase this spasm and reduce the calories you burn in the session.
Don't forget to stretch at the end of exercise, helping your muscle recover and begin the rebuilding process and calorie burning effect as soon instantly.