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An important topic that comes up time and again in our chiropractic clinic is stretching and how to best use it. The two common types of stretching most discussed are static stretching and dynamic stretching. While they are both useful, it is important to know when to utilize one or the other.
Static stretching is the form of stretching most people are familiar with. It is when you actively or passively take a joint through full range of motion (ROM) and then add extra pressure to the motion to cause a stretch of your targeted muscle. For the hamstring and hip, a way to perform this would be to lay on your back with your leg straight and raise your leg as high as you can without bending your knee. Once at the end of the motion, you could either use your hands or a strap to pull the leg further to stretch the hamstring past its active range and hold it for usually 10-30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching, according to Kurz, “involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both” in a controlled manner in the limits of your range of motion (1). This is commonly confused with ballistic stretching which involves bouncing a joint and passing the proper range of motion of a joint which can cause injury. An example of a dynamic stretch for the hamstring and hip would be leg swings. While standing you simply swing your leg forward and back trying to increase the reach and ROM of the hip each time.
When is the best time to use one or the other?
Dynamic stretching is most beneficial before you exercise as part of your warm up. Some research performed shows that when dynamic stretching is used as part of a warm-up, there is an increase in peak power output in muscles tested (2). However, when static stretching is performed before an activity there is a decrease in muscle strength for up to one hour. There is little that states performing static stretching before an activity will decrease injury or soreness after a workout. Also, if static stretching is used and only held for 8-15 seconds as most people will, the benefits of the lengthened muscle will dissipate after only a few minutes anyway. I recommend people to utilize static stretching as part of their cool-down after exercise and on non-training days to increase flexibility and mobility of joints.
In general, if you have no major flexibility issues, this is what I advise for a warm-up (3):
1.Use some gentle foam rolling to allow the tissues to achieve an increase in circulation
2.Now use the dynamic stretching and movement prep to allow full ROM to be achieved before exercise
• Movement prep would be doing some work with an unloaded bar or bodyweight exercises if you workout is more barbell/weight based. If you are running I would use things such as high knees, butt-kicks, etc.
3. Exercise specific warm-up – this is the last portion and includes the exercises you will be performing or activity you will be performing at a lighter load or slower speed. This is a continuation of movement prep from the step before. Also, if you are warming up for a sporting event this would be when you spend time doing sport-specific skills.
• Examples would include hitting or throwing drills for baseball, passing and running drills for lacrosse, and so on.
During the cool-down phase, use of static stretching may help the muscles from shortening and causing cramping or decreased flexibility. Although there is little published evidence that states this, clinical experience shows us that this helps in most cases. Typically, I suggest a minimum of 30-60 seconds per stretch. Finally, if you do have any major mobility restrictions I suggest you spend some time working on these. Muscle imbalance and asymmetry puts you at a higher risk of injury. If you are having issues with a lift due to flexibility, I prefer for you to spend more time achieving the proper ROM first and any needed corrective-exercises. Once the appropriate level of motion has been achieved, it is then much safer to load a motion. If you still struggle with some mobility or flexibility issues when trying to do them on your own, stop by and we’ll use our skills with movement assessment, Active Release Techniques (ART), and chiropractic adjustments to get you back on track.
Written by Dr. Chandler Turnipseed – Johns Creek Chiropractor at Active Care Atlanta