Stretching 101: An Introduction for Athletes

Why is stretching important? What's the best stretch for your sport? How should you stretch? Find answers to these questions and more in "Stretching 101."

Stretching

Contrary to popular belief, stretching cannot be an afterthought in your workouts. It's essential to stretch on a regular basis to increase mobility, improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

The Muscular System

There are over 600 muscles in the body, and they are all supposed to be very elastic. But as muscles grow in size and strength, they can become tight as adhesions form within them. Large bulky muscles limit range of motion,  potentially affecting mechanics and limiting performance.

Types of Stretching

There are several types of stretching, all appropriate for different goals:

Dynamic. Athletic movements that take your joints through their full range of motion, increase blood flow to the muscles and prepare your body for exercise.

Static. Holding stretch positions for a specified duration.

PNF. Adds a muscle contraction before a stretch. The nervous system then allows for a greater stretch.

Ballistic. Stretching that includes bouncing or jerky movements. Never perform ballistic stretches, since they can cause muscle injuries.

Stretching Frequency

Stretch at least two or three times per week, before and after a workout, practice or game. Never push yourself too hard. Stretching should be uncomfortable, but never painful. If you stretch independent of a workout, warm up for three to five minutes beforehand to increase blood flow. It's best to stretch each part of the body; however, it's OK to focus on areas that will be emphasized in your workout. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

Stretching Tips

During rest between sets, stretch the muscles you are not exercising. For example, between sets of an upper-body workout, stretch your legs—and vice versa. This will increase the efficiency of your workouts and avoid fatiguing the muscles you are working.

Avoid static stretching before a workout, practice or game. Research has shown that it actually reduces strength and power, thereby impairing performance.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: WARM-UP | STRETCHING | WORKOUTS | MOBILITY | POWER | EXERCISE | INJURY | MECHANICS | RANGE OF MOTION | JERKY