stretching your body guide, Types of Stretching
Remember that overstretching (very hard stretching) causes more harm than good. Some-times a muscle becomes stiff from overstretching. Stretching can reduce muscle tone, and
when tone is reduced, the body compensates by making the muscle even tighter. For each
progression, start with the position that is the least stiff and progress only when, after several
days of stretching, you notice a consistent lack of stiffness during the exercise. This means
that you should stretch both the agonist muscles (the muscles that cause a movement) and
antagonist muscles (the muscles that oppose a movement or do the opposite movement).
Also, remember that although you may have greater stiffness in one direction (right versus
left), you need to stretch both sides so that you maintain proper muscle balance.
The muscles in the neck are involved primarily in supporting or moving the head. The head movements
are fl exion (head tilted forward), extension (head tilted backward), lateral fl exion and exten-sion (head up and back sideward), and rotation. Since the muscles in the neck come in right
and left pairings, all of the neck muscles are involved with lateral fl exion and extension. For
example, the right sternocleidomastoid helps perform right lateral fl exion, and the left ster-nocleidomastoid helps perform right lateral extension. Illustrations showing the muscles and
movements as well as a chart showing which muscles do a specifi c movement are located
at the end of the chapter (pages 6-7).
When people think about doing stretching exercises, they seldom consider the neck
muscles. Neck fl exibility probably does not cross your mind until you discover that you have
a stiff neck. A stiff neck is commonly associated with sleeping in a strange position (such as
on a long fl ight), but a stiff neck can result from almost any type of physical activity. This is
especially true for any activity where the head must be held in a constant stable position.
Thus, a stiff neck can also have a negative effect in sports where head position is important
(such as golf) or where rapid head movements are important for tracking the fl ight of an
object (such as in racket sports). Poor neck fl exibility usually results from holding the head
in the same position for long periods. In addition, a fatigued neck muscle can stiffen up after
exercise. The following exercises can help keep the neck from stiffening up after exercise,
unusual postures, or awkward sleep positions.
Since all of the major muscles in the neck are involved in neck rotation, it is fairly easy
to stretch the neck muscles. The fi rst consideration when choosing a particular neck stretch
should be whether greater stiffness occurs with fl exion or extension. Therefore, the fi rst
two exercise groups are concerned with these specifi c actions. Once you achieve greater
fl exibility in either pure fl exion or pure extension, then you can add a stretch that includes
lateral movement. In other words, to increase the fl exibility of the neck extensors, start
with the neck extensor stretch and then, as fl exibility increases, add the neck extensor and
In the programs that appear in the following section, specific instructions are given relating
to the time to hold the stretch and time to rest between each stretch, as well as the number
of repetitions you should do. You should follow these instructions in order to get the benefits
described. For example, if the instructions indicate that you should hold a stretch position for
10 seconds, time (or count out) the stretch to ensure that you hold it for the recommended
time. Also, you should incorporate only two to four heavier stretching days in each week
and have a lighter stretching day in between each of the heavier stretching days.
Finally, for any stretch involving sitting or lying down, you should do the stretch with a
cushion underneath you, such as a carpet or athletic mat. Cushioning makes the exercises
more comfortable to perform. However, the cushioning should be firm. Too soft of a cushion
will reduce the effectiveness of the stretches.
The following programs are specific stretching recommendations and are based on your
initial flexibility. In addition to following the programs listed, you should follow the
general recommendations listed previously. Stay on each level for two to four weeks
before going to the next level.
Because of the complexity of muscle attachments, many stretching exercises simultane-ously affect a variety of muscle groups in the body and stretch the muscle groups around
multiple joints. Thus, a small change in body position can change the nature of a stretch on
any particular muscle. To get the maximal stretching benefit in any muscle, it is helpful to
know joint movements that each muscle can do. Putting the joint through the full range of
each motion allows for maximal stretching.
You can customize the exercises in this book, which will allow for numerous stretch
combinations. Also, this book illustrates only a portion of the available stretches. You are
encouraged to experiment with these stretches by following the explanations provided.
Information is also provided to enable you to explore a variety of positions in order to stretch
the muscle by slightly altering the angles and directions of the various body positions. Thus,
you can adapt the stretching exercises to fit your individual needs and desires. For example,
if you have soreness in only one of the muscles or just a part of the muscle, you can adapt
each exercise to stretch that particular muscle. If the explained stretch or particular body
position does not stretch a particular muscle as much as you want it to, then experiment
by slightly altering the position. Keep making alterations in the position until you reach the
desired level of stretch (using a pain scale rating).
For the programs outlined in this introduction, you should begin with the initial program, or
level I, and then progress through to level V. However, you may customize this program
according to your current level of experience and flexibility. Generally, working through each
level at the recommended speed will result in meaningful and consistent workouts. After
such workouts, you will find improved flexibility in the muscles you worked as well as the
satisfaction of having done something beneficial.
Intensity is always a critical factor when you want changes and improvements to come
from an exercise program. In a stretching routine, intensity is controlled by the amount of
pain associated with the stretch. Using a pain scale from 0 to 10, initial pain is light (scale of
1 to 3) and usually dissipates as the time of stretching is extended. Light stretching occurs
when you stretch a particular muscle group only to a point where you feel the stretch with
an associated light pain. Moderate stretching (scale of 4 to 6) occurs when you start to feel
increased, or “medium,” pain in the muscle you’re stretching. In heavy stretching (scale of
7 to 10), you will initially experience a moderate to heavy pain at the start of the stretch,
but this pain slowly dissipates as stretching continues. Research studies have shown that
heavier stretches rather than lighter stretches provide greater improvements in flexibility
and strength. Thus, you are the key to your own success, and how well you are able to
monitor stretch intensity and tolerate the pain level determines how quick and large the
improvements will be.
The following are several chronic training benefits gained from using a regular stretching
• Improved flexibility, stamina (muscular endurance), and muscular strength. The degree
of benefit depends on how much stress is put on the muscle. Medium or heavy
stretches are recommended. You can do this by building up to doing long stretches
of high intensity (see the next section for a detailed explanation of light, medium,
and heavy stretching).
• Reduced muscle soreness, aches, and pains. Use only very light stretches if muscle
• Improved flexibility with the use of static or PNF stretches. Medium or heavy stretches
• Good muscular and joint mobility.
• More efficient muscular movements and fluidity of motion.
• Greater ability to exert maximum force through a wider range of motion.
• Prevention of some lower back problems.
• Improved appearance and self-image.
• Improved body alignment and posture.
• Better warm-up and cool-down in an exercise session.
Types of Stretching
In general, any movement that requires moving a body part to the point at which there
is an increase in the movement of a joint can be called a stretching exercise. Stretching
can be done either actively or passively. Active stretching occurs when the person doing
the stretch is the one holding the body part in the stretched position. Passive stretching
occurs when someone else moves the person to the stretch position and then holds the
person in the position for a set time. The four major types of stretches are static,
proprio-ceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), ballistic, and dynamic.
Stand upright with weight balanced on the left leg.
Place the right leg on a table, bench, or object that is about even with the
height of the hips.
While keeping the right knee straight, rotate the body sideways so that the
trunk and the left leg face 90 degrees away from the raised right leg (allow
the right leg to rotate so that the right knee points to the side). Point the
left knee and toes forward (directly in front of the hips).
Bend the left knee slightly, but keep the right knee straight.
Hang both arms down in front of the left leg with the palms close to the floor.
Alternatively, place the left hand over the left knee and the right hand on
the lateral (outer) side of the right knee (as illustrated).
Bend the trunk slightly forward toward the left knee.
The static stretch is used most often. In static stretching, one stretches a particular muscle or group of muscles by
slowly moving the body part into position and then holding the stretch for a set time.
Since the static stretch begins with a relaxed muscle and then applies the stretch slowly,
static stretching does not activate the stretch reflex (the knee jerk seen when the tendon
is tapped with a mallet). Activation of the stretch reflex causes the stretched muscle to
contract instead of elongate. This contraction of the muscle is directly opposite of the intent
of the exercise. PNF stretching refers to a stretching technique in which a fully contracted
muscle is stretched by moving a limb through the joint’s range of motion. After moving
through the complete range of motion, the muscle is relaxed and rested before resuming
the procedure. The combination of muscle contraction and stretching serves to relax the
muscles used to maintain muscle tone. This relaxation allows for increased flexibility by
“quieting” the internal forces in both the muscles that assist and the ones that oppose the
movement of the joint in the desired direction. Ballistic stretching uses muscle contractions
to force muscle elongation through bobbing movements where there is no pause at any
point in the movement. Although the bobbing movement quickly elongates the muscle
with each repetition, the bobbing also activates the stretch reflex (or knee jerk) response.
Since the stretch reflex stimulates the muscle groups to contract after the stretch is finished,
ballistic stretching is usually discouraged. Dynamic stretching refers to the stretching that
occurs while performing sport-specific movements. Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic
stretching in that both use fast body movements to cause muscle stretch, but dynamic
stretching does not employ bouncing or bobbing. Additionally, dynamic stretching uses
only the muscle actions specific to a sport. Practically speaking, dynamic stretching is similar
to performing a sport-specific warm-up (that is, performing the movements required for
the activity but at a lower intensity).
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