Stretching and Flexibility
by Tom Swales

One of the most neglected aspects of training is maintaining good flexibility through proper stretching; and incorporating a good flexibility program into ones workout can prevent most injuries.

Muscle flexibility is defined as the ability of a muscle to lengthen, allowing on joint (or ore than one joint in a series) to move through a range of motion. Studies have documented the importance of muscle flexibility for normal muscle function and for the prevention of injury. The achievement of ideal flexibility can prevent injury, enhance athletic performance, and assist in rehabilitation after musculoskeletal injury.

Why Stretch?

- maintain normal muscle function
- prevention of injury
- enhance athletic performance
- assist in rehabilitation after musculoskeletal injury
- increase range of motion

Physiology of the Muscle:

Muscle spindle - responds to changes in the length of the muscle and the velocity at which the length changes.

Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) - prevent over activity of the nerve fibers innervating the muscle.

Types of Stretching:

Ballistic Stretching

- Imposes repetitive bouncing or jerking movements on the muscles to be stretched.
Important Considerations
- Sedentary individuals and most geriatric individuals do not frequently use high velocity, dynamic activities in their daily lives.
- The athlete should be properly and extensively trained in static stretching.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

- A brief contraction before a brief static stretch of the muscle is the mainstay of the PNF techniques.

Static Stretching

- The muscle is slowly elongated to tolerance (a comfortable stretch, short of pain) and the position is held with the muscle in this greatest tolerated length.
- A slow, prolonged stretch is used to reduce the reflex contraction from the muscle spindle.

Clinical Guidelines

- Proper static stretching slowly elongates the muscles to a point which a mild pull or tension is felt. This elongated position should be held for 30 seconds, during which time there should be NO discomfort or pain.
- Each stretching activity should be performed at least once per day
- Ideally, stretching to increase flexibility should be performed after a general warm-up. If a warm-up is not possible, following the recommendations of performing the stretch to the point of mild tension should be strictly adhered.
- Isolating the muscle to be stretched is more effective than performing a general stretch that works two or three muscles (such as bending over and touching toes).
- One should not stretch to the point that pain is felt in the muscle or joint. If one stretches aggressively and into the painful range of motion, the muscle will actually tighten. This may lead to microscopic tears, which in turn may lead to the formation of non-elastic scar tissue.


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