Jan 29, 2015
Stretching Strategy

By Vern Gambetta

Seldom does a flexibility deficiency appear in isolation–it is usually related to a deficiency in strength and sometimes posture. The qualities of flexibility and strength are closely related. Many times, the so-called “tight” individuals can significantly improve flexibility by undertaking a good, sound-balanced strength-training program. Here are my thoughts on when and how to implement one.

In terms of training, flexibility is considered a separate unit. It should be addressed daily. Like any other training component, variation must be programmed into the flexibility routines. Flexibility is not a warm-up! It is not part of the warm-up, nor is it the major focus in the warm-up. As a separate training unit to address specific deficiencies, flexibility is best placed after warm-up.

The rule of thumb to remember is warm-up to stretch, do not stretch to warm-up. My experience has shown static stretching is best placed at the end of the workout as part of a cool down. Placed there, it serves to restore the muscles to their resting length, which will reduce soreness and enhance recovery for the next workout.

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For optimum results, flexibility exercises in the warm-up should be active to facilitate the excitation of the nervous system to create a readiness for movement. The tempo of the stretches used in warm-up is stretch–hold one count–relax and repeat three times and then move onto another body part. The purpose of stretching in warm-up is neural activation. Passive or static stretching has a relaxing, calming effect. That is appropriate for the cool down or in a recovery

Deficiencies in range of motion can be remedied quite quickly, but sufficient work must be done to maintain those gains and to make sure those gains transfer to the activity. I have found it most effective to work on flexibility several times a day in shorter sessions. These sessions should be designed to meet the individual athlete’s needs.

There are many tools to improve flexibility. The most available and adaptable tool is gravity. It is always available, easy to use, convenient and effective.

A balance point in the form of a rail, hurdle, or a bench can help to enhance gravity. And towels or ropes can be used as an aid in stretching, used to gain a lever advantage.

Vary the duration of the stretch. For developmental stretching, hold the end position in a range of time from ten to thirty seconds. Repeat the stretch three to five times.

Although not substantiated by research, my experience has shown that stretching for 15-20 minutes, approximately two hours after the last workout of the day, is very effective in terms of reducing soreness and enhancing recovery. I have also seen its usefulness in making noticeable range of motion gains.

According to Thomas Kurz, “Flexibility Training is speed-specific because there are two kinds of stretch receptors, one detecting the magnitude and the speed of stretching, the other detecting magnitude only. Static stretches improve static flexibility and dynamic stretches improve dynamic flexibility, which is why it does not make sense to use static stretches as a warm-up for dynamic action.”

The amount of work (time devoted) to maintain flexibility is significantly less than the amount of time needed to develop it. In dynamic flexibility work there are no sudden movements; the movements are controlled and flowing.

Dynamic flexibility work will improve elasticity of muscles and ligaments. It consists of arm swings, leg swings, trunk rotations, reaches and bending to stimulate blood flow and wake up the nervous system.

Static stretches should follow dynamic stretches. Static stretching can be counterproductive if placed before a workout requiring explosiveness, speed or agility. Immediately following static stretching the muscles are less responsive to stimulation and coordination is thrown off. Static stretches interfere with the activity of tendon reflexes. This underscores the importance of carefully choosing the type of flexibility to be used relative to the type of workout. This is all part of a good plan.

Vern Gambetta, MA, is President of Gambetta Sports Training Systems in Sarasota, Fla. The former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox, he has also worked extensively with basketball, soccer, and track and field athletes. He is a frequent contributor to Training & Conditioning. Vern also maintains his own blog. To purchase a book containing a collection of his writings, click here.

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