Health and Fitness - Flexibility
Flexibility Training Methods
There are several training methods used to develop flexibility; however, most fall
under the following general categories:
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
Throughout this unit we will discuss each of the above mentioned categories of flexibility training.
You will learn about the effect that each different category has on the body and how you can use each category as an effective tool to help develop your flexibility.
Dynamic stretching consists of controlled movements which increase in range and/or speed so that you gradually reach your full range and speed of movement.
There is some controversy surrounding the effectiveness of dynamic stretching and
its role in the development of flexibility. Some experts believe that the short, intermittent movements involved in this type of stretching activate the stretch reflex and cause the stretched muscle to contract. Others maintain that dynamic stretching is beneficial for quick, explosive activities like gymnastics.
However, in general, dynamic stretching should not be used to develop static flexibility or long-standing changes in range of motion. If used at all, dynamic stretching functions best before exercise to enhance performance. This type of stretch is often performed after a warm up and prior to an exercise session in anticipation of a particular activity. Dynamic stretches should mimic the activity that is to be performed.
Static stretching (sometimes referred to as passive stretching) develops static
flexibility and uses slow, controlled movements through a full range of motion.
This type of stretch is performed by holding a position using a part of the body, the assistance of a partner, or some other apparatus such as a pole or the floor (e.g., lifting one leg up and holding it with the hand, the splits).
Slow, static stretching helps relieve muscle spasms due to exercise, and is used for cooling down after a workout to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness.
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of the body or a limb to force a stretch past the normal range of motion and then return to the starting position.
Ballistic stretching incorporates bouncing or jerky movements and should not be confused with dynamic stretching. An example of a ballistic stretch would be bouncing down to touch toes or using the momentum of the torso to twist the body. Uncontrolled arms swings in which the arms are thrown backward and then bounce back to the starting position are also an example.
This type of stretching does not contribute to flexibility. Instead, the repeated activation of the stretch reflex causes muscles to contract which can lead to injury.
This type of stretching is not recommended before exercise because of risk of injury.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is considered an
advanced stretching technique. It is used extensively by physical therapists or when high degrees of both passive and dynamic flexibility are required for performance (e.g., martial arts, ballet, gymnastics, kick-boxing).
There are several PNF techniques, but generally, PNF consists of a passive stretch, followed by an isometric contraction, which is then followed by another stretch (static or dynamic).
By combining passive stretching with isometric contractions (a contraction in which there is no change in muscle length or joint movement) with a partner or object for resistance, PNF uses the stretch reflex and lengthening reaction to achieve a greater range of motion.
PNF Stretching (Continued)
As previously described, when a muscle is slowly stretched and held, the resulting tension triggers the lengthening reaction which prevents the stretched muscle fibers from contracting.
When this stretched muscle is then isometrically contracted, the following happens:
During an isometric contraction, some fibers will contract, but others will stretch even further. When the contraction is stopped, the contracted fibers return to their starting position, while the stretched fibers retain their stretched position (due to muscle spindle accommodation) and are able to lengthen even further.
The increased tension within the muscles generated by an isometric contraction activates the GTO which triggers the lengthening reaction, and inhibits further contraction. When the isometric contraction is stopped, the muscle is still inhibited from further contraction and able to lengthen further.
It is best to have a partner help when using PNF techniques.
A common PNF technique is referred to as the “contract-relax method”. This technique uses passive stretch and isometric contractions, followed by muscle relaxation and passive stretching to the new range of motion.
For example, if you are stretching your hamstrings, you first passively take the stretch to the point of tightness and hold. Then you isometrically contract the hamstrings by using this muscle to apply force against an object or partner.
Following the contraction, the muscle is allowed to relax and the muscle is then passively stretched and held. Current recommendations suggest performing this technique with one to five repetitions, but like weight training, it needs to be done no more than three to five times a week.
Contract-Relax PNF Technique
The steps and technique to be used for the contract-relax method are presented below. Again, please note that this method of stretching should be done only between three and five times a week in order to avoid injury.
1. Passive stretch for 15 sec.
2. Isometric contraction for 7 - 15 sec.
3. Passive stretch to new end for 15 sec.
4. Repeat 1 - 5 times.
END of UNIT
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