The most effective stretches include a range of techniques and body regions for better overall flexibility. Flexibility helps protect you from injury by keeping muscles limber and joints supple enough to achieve fuller ranges of motion, according to the Human Performance Resource Center. Choose between the different stretching times for the most effective stretch suiting your goals. Stretching at least twice a week will help improve your flexibility and prevent injury. To maintain flexibility, consider incorporating a 15-minute stretching session into your daily routine.
Static Stretching: Effective for Muscle Lengthening
Static stretching includes holding a stretch for a specific amount of time, generally between 15 and 60 seconds, which allows the muscle to stretch before release. Static stretching can help elongate muscles and the fibers comprising them, making this an effective stretch post workout or to increase flexibility when you're rehabilitating a muscle. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology recommends that you begin static stretching with your back, then your upper body and then move onto your lower body. After stretching the back and external obliques, move onto the neck, forearms, wrists and triceps. Stretch the chest, buttocks and groin area before moving into the thighs, calves and shins. Finish by stretching your hamstrings and instep.
Dynamic Stretching: Targeted Flexibility for Sports
Dynamic stretching involves repetitive movements that get your body moving through continuous action. Dynamic stretches are often linked with a specific activity. You can take repetitive lunge steps, for example, to stretch before running. This makes dynamic stretching ideal for improving flexibility prior to a workout. It's effective for preparing your body for the specific activity ahead. Leg raises and arm swings are examples of dynamic stretching possibilities, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ballistic Stretching: High-Energy Flexibility
Ballistic stretching, which involves rapid, intense bursts of movement, can be effective for high-impact athletes such as sprinters but could cause injury if performed incorrectly, according to the Human Performance Resource Center. It's effective in a similar way to dynamic stretching in that it prepares the body's flexibility levels for specific types of movements. It's punched-up power makes it a more effective option for athletes than ordinary individuals, though. An example of ballistic stretching would include rapid, repetitive high-knee stretches. Avoid bouncing, though, since this can result in injury, according to Washington State University. Unless you’re an athlete, ballistic stretching might not be your most effective option.
Partner Stretching: Flexibility with Support
PNF stretching, also known as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching, requires the help of a partner. This is an effective way to boost your flexibility because a partner can provide physical support in the stretch, adjusting the stretch to suit your current levels as you provide verbal feedback. Increase flexibility through PNF stretching by having a partner assist you into deeper stretches. Partners should move slowly, listening to your directions as you indicate when a stretch has become uncomfortable, according to the University of New Mexico. Most techniques involve contracting your muscle to “resist” the pressure applied by your partner, and then releasing into a full stretch to increase flexibility.
- Human Performance Resource Center: Improve Your Flexibility
- Washington State University: Flexibility Training
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: How to Stretch
- University of New Mexico: Flexibility Training
- U.S. News and World Report: Flexibility: 8 Stretches That Will Stretch Your Workout Routine