What is stretching?

Stretches are gentle, sustained exercises that help prepare the muscles for increased effort and to increase range of motion in the joints.

Okay, it seems easy a priori, but how many of us really know what they are? Or, what are they for? What are they based on? And above all, how they should be done. Stretching does not always serve to modify flexibility but can be used for just the opposite: improving the elasticity or reactivity of tissues, this aspect being related to other basic physical qualities, such as strength and speed.

Stretches are exercises in which the muscle is subjected to an elongation tension, for a variable time and at a certain speed. The duration of the maintenance of said tension or its magnitude are two of the variables that condition the final result of the stretch.

We can generalise between two types of stretching, static and dynamic. In the former, a joint position is maintained that subjects one or more muscles to elongation without movement of said joint.

What are they for?

Depending on the stretching technique used, the objectives can vary between:

  • prepare muscle for physical activity.
  • Recover the resting position of the muscle once the activity has ended
  • Recover the elongation capacity of a muscle after a period of immobilisation
  • Aiding general relaxation of the musculoskeletal system
  • Improve flexibility
  • Improve the elastic capacity of tissues (reactivity)
How should they be done?

Taking into account the factors on which the elongation capacity of our tissues depends, we can address in more detail what the most appropriate stretching methodology should be to achieve the multiple objectives that can be achieved with the administration of stretches.

For example, if we want to prepare the muscle for physical activity, we should take into account the type of sport to be practiced and whether it is an ordinary training or a competition.

If we want to regain the ability to stretch a muscle after a period of immobilisation, the techniques and methodology will be different.

In the case that we want to help the general relaxation of the locomotor system, relaxed passive or active static stretches would be the most recommended.

If what we are looking for is an improvement in flexibility, the most recommended method stretches would be static or mixed where the dynamic part is at slow speed.

And, if for example we want to improve the elastic capacity or reactivity of the tissues, the recommended stretches would be fundamentally dynamic and dynamic at high or very high speed.

On my Pinterest page you can find a new “plank” (Stretching / Stretching) and another that is old but still useful (Stretching & Massage) dedicated to stretching exercises. Click the link.

My reference to understand movement is the book of Stretching Anatomy by Frederic Delavier