Stretching is a valuable tool for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. It is a foundation for improved health and fitness.
The basis for stretching is to improve flexibility and reduce injury. Studies have shown that flexibility decreases after the age of 25. It is best to stretch after a light warm-up before starting the intense workout, and then again as a cool-down after the workout.
Another factor affecting flexibility is a person’s state of hydration - the more hydrated, the more flexible one can become. The key element to stretching is to ease into the stretch, start light and then reach a little further with each exhale of breath. There are three different categories of stretching: static stretching, ballistic stretching and active isolated stretching.
Static Stretching is the most common form of stretching.
It begins with a slow reach through a range of motion. It is designed to allow the muscles time to adapt to increased activity. The position is usually held for 15-30 second at a time, and is best repeated up to three times.
Active Isolated Stretching is similar to static stretching, except the position is only held for up to two seconds, instead of 15 seconds. The goal is isolating the specific muscle being stretched while protecting the joint. After the two-second hold, the body part is returned to its original position and then stretched again with the goal of trying to exceed the resistance by a few degrees. There are several repetitions to this stretching technique.
Ballistic Stretching is usually not recommended for the general population, but more for the advanced athlete.
It is used for sport-specific actions, and involves quick-controlled movements, such as bouncing or bobbing. It may increase the chance of injury if not performed properly.