Now you’re clued up on what stretching is, here we, unravel each type of stretching (when and how to use them) and how much to stretch, before it starts hindering your performance (rather than helping it).
Stretching means more than flexibility! From biomechanics correction to mental calming and here are some of the forms you can use:
- Ballistic stretching
- Static stretching
- Dynamic stretching
- Muscle Energy technique (MET)
- Passive stretching
Some involve movement (dynamic) or none at all (static). Some involve an aide or partner (passive) but others you can do alone as part of your warm-up (active). All the above types of stretching have their place, and if used correctly (good form, duration and intensity) then you will be flying… or running.
Let’s dig deeper into why stretching is important and what will best suit you (and when) for running, I mean what else are we here for?
An intense muscle stretch, pushing the joint or limb beyond its normal range of movement utilising momentum. It’s a rather advanced stretching technique that involves bouncing. It’s more of a functional movement type of stretching and perfect for a warmup as it CAN target more than one muscle at a time.
Proceed with caution as stretching beyond your limit can cause muscle tears and ligament strains. It’s not for beginners.
Following a few minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging, walking or cycling for example), you can target the Hamstring for example: legs straight, lean forwards to touch your toes. Instead of holding the stretch, you pulse (little bounces).
Alternatively, for a functional movement style, warm-up is bounding. Bounding along the straight or slight decline would ‘open up your hips’ (quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, adductors, gastroc complex, abs, lower back). Perfect to warm up, its low effort, big movements, ideal to prepare your body for a training session, especially a run!
The most often used and thought of when thinking about stretching. Basically, you need to hold a position long enough for the targeted muscle to relax (it gets technical, more on that later). You take the muscle to its limit and hold it there for a set time, reset the position and then repeat. Simple enough right?
For example, to stretch your quadriceps – stand, feet shoulder-width apart from the bend your left knee. Left heel to your backside held there by your left hand. Keep upright no knees together, there you have your run of the mill, quadricep stretch. This isn’t the only position for a quad stretch so bear that in mind, and if it’s too advanced or too easy, adjust the tension upon the muscle accordingly.
Not to be confused with ballistic stretching; dynamic stretching is using movement, but starting slow and as you warm up your movements get bigger. Ballistic stretching tries to take a limb/joint beyond its natural movement, whereas dynamic stretching is controlled. Zero bounding, bouncing or flailing here!
For runners, I think this is one to consider in all of your warm-ups. To get the upper body prepared, warm and ready to go dynamic movements Torso twisting is exactly what it says on the tin – twisting your torso under control.
Another good one for runners is lunges. Starting very light, hardly any knee bend, to slow and controlled full lunges to warm up the entire lower body.
Muscle Energy Technique (METs) stretching
(Could also be fined isometric stretching) Okay, here it gets technical – with this technique we are using a muscle contraction to stretch, but they use almost opposite techniques to get the same result. I told you it sounds strange. Let me explain: there are two types of MET stretching:
Use the opposite muscle/movement to the muscle you want to stretch.
Use a contraction of the muscle you want to stretch.
Lay on your back left leg kept straight on the floor, the right kept straight but flexed at the hip (stretching the hamstring) until it can go no further. Then using your arms, a towel or partner, you apply a 10-20% contraction of the hamstrings for 6 seconds. After your time, exhale and lower the right leg to the floor. Repeat the movement and no doubt you have increased your flexibility immediately.
in the exact same position as above, find the ‘hamstring barrier’ (the furthest you can stretch). Use a partner, or place your hands just above your kneecap. Apply some pressure through your hands, to make your quadriceps contract 10-20% again for 6 seconds. Lower the leg and start again – both these techniques have instant results, perfect for rehabilitation or feeling a particular ‘tightness’ (Body awareness remember!)
The best type of stretching if you ask me; it’s the laziest and can be the most intense you will endure. Passive means someone else moving your limbs, stretching your muscles for you. This can also be done whilst having a sports massage, for any therapist worth their salt anyway.
Seek a professional, a physical therapist, personal trainer, athletic therapist, or osteopath for example. They are likely to use PNF stretching (an acronym for Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) to restore the range of movement lost through soft tissue injury or surgery. If you use a non-professional, you’re running the risk of injury, so please tread carefully.
How much do I need to stretch?
It’s perfectly okay to hold a stretch for 6 seconds up to a minute, depending on the technique you’ve chosen above. Oftentimes I will stretch my lower back for longer because I can feel the tension melt away, others like calf’s, I keep a short and sweet.
- Static stretches should be held for a specific time – 10-30 seconds being optimal.
- Dynamic, you can afford longer, say 45 seconds to 1 minute.
- MET – well that 6-second rule will see you through.
- Passive, someone else is in control and will be monitoring your results.
Science studies have been all over this question, ‘how often should I stretch?’ for years, in-fact “>this study recommends stretching 6 times per week, at least once a day (but more actually doesn’t hurt) – The study was focused on that dreaded hamstring tightness we runners will know all too well, they stretched for one minute per leg each session!
So, the ‘sorry I don’t have enough time to stretch’ excuse just won’t cut the mustard anymore.
However, don’t stick to the same stretches every day (just like you wouldn’t do the same gym routine every time you visit or run the exact same routes) it gets boring, right?