There are so many different types of stretches out there, how do you know which one to use for your situation? Learn 4 different types of stretches you should be doing and one stretch you should avoid!
Before you get Started
If you haven't checked out my other article that teaches you how to stretch properly already, I urge you to go check that out real quick, especially if you consider yourself a beginner. Go ahead and click here to go read that article. Now to get started, we will begin with the one stretch you shouldn't be performing.
Ballistic Stretching is the stretching technique you shouldn't perform unless you are a professional athlete with a professional coach. Ballistic stretching is dangerous because it has the highest risk of injury with minimal to zero value. The momentum from bouncing farther into your stretch can easily cause a tear within the muscle or tendons. Not only that, performing ballistic stretching doesn't give your muscles time to adjust to the new length, meaning you feel no change. When you perform a ballistic stretching, you are trying to force the part of the body beyond its range of motion.
Not to be confused with ballistic stretching, dynamic stretching controls the stretch and gradually reaches a little further into your stretch each time. As opposed to trying to force your body into the new range of motion, you are gently controlling the range of motion. This kind of stretching is very useful for warmups and aerobic activities and helps improve dynamic flexibility. To best perform this kind of stretching, it's recommended to perform the stretches with 8-12 reps for every set.
It's also important to note that if you begin to get tired, then make sure to stop. A tired muscle will have less flexibility and even return to its original shortened length, which you then have to fight again the next time you want to stretch out.
This next type of stretching is called active stretching and is most commonly found in yoga. This kind of stretching consists of contracting one set of muscles (agonist), so their opposite (antagonist) can stretch out.
A simple example of this would be flexing the bicep to stretch the tricep or vise versa. You might perform a more common one that consists of contracting the chest (like a chest flye) to stretch the upper back muscles. All of these are examples of active stretching.
The way this helps stretch the muscle is through Reciprocal Inhibition or RI. RI is a fancy way of saying, when one muscle around a joint is active and wants to contract (flexing the bicep), the opposite muscle on the other side of the joint (the tricep) must relax to allow the joint to move through its range of motion. Without this give and take relationship, you wouldn't be able to move. It's common to only hold an active stretch for only 10-15 seconds.
Most of us are used to performing a passive stretch. This is where you hold a stretch with another part of your body or an external object like a yoga strap or belt. If you imagine grabbing your foot behind your back to stretch your quad, then this would be an example of passive stretching. If you read the first article, then you should recognize this kind of stretching. Make sure to hold this kind of stretch for anywhere between 30-120 seconds, trying to allow the muscle to relax.
PNF Stretching or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is one of the most advanced and fastest ways to increase your flexibility. PNF stretching works by combining passive stretching with isometric stretching to achieve faster flexibility. Isometric stretching (which is used mostly in PNF Stretching) involves contracting the muscle while it's in a stretched position. While stretched, this contraction forces the muscles to relax, which allows you to stretch the muscle a little further. There's a lot of behind the scenes happening here within the muscle so if you want to learn about the science behind it, let me know in the comments section. But, let's get into how to perform a PNF Stretch.
There are 2 main versions of PNF stretching
- Hold-Relax - After passively stretching the muscle you want to stretch, you then contract that same muscle against an equal or greater force. Meaning the muscle that's contracting shouldn't move. After 7-15 seconds, stop, relax, and passively take the muscle a little further into its new range of motion. Hold that new stretch there for another 30 seconds until performing another PNF stretch. Perform up to 3 sets of stretches.
- Contract-Relax-Antagonist-Contract (or CRAC) - the CRAC method adds an additional step to the Hold-Relax Stretching; Which is contracting the opposite muscle for 7-15 seconds. After performing the second contraction, the muscle is then stretched into its new range of motion. CRAC relies on the body's natural RI response to help relax the muscle you want to stretch even further. If you remember, RI is how you perform active stretching.
What to do next
Now that you know how to perform different stretches, it's time to put them to use by stretching the tight muscles causing your sciatica pain. If this sounds like you, then simply click here or the button below to get our FREE video and guide on stretching for sciatica.