STRETCHING FOR FLEXIBILITY
by JESSICA ZOO, founder of CheerConditioning.Academy creator of the BODY BEFORE SKILL Training Method. Specialising in cheerleading fitness, flexibility and kinesiology.
It's 2019, yet we're still seeing so many people and teams holding static stretches during their warmup. Despite this information being available for decades, we still see in class, practice or people training on their own, warmups that look like they belong in the 90's and 80s.. a time where flexibility was vastly misunderstood.
Yet people are really struggling with flexibility and injury! In this article, we take you through the basic do's and don't if you want to increase your flexibility, considering both an increase in gains and preventing injury - using the latest research in sports science and applied practice from our team of expert staff at CheerConditioning.Academy.
FIRSTLY: WHAT IS FLEXIBILITY?
Flexibility is the ability of our joints and muscles to move through their full potential range of motion. Flexibility training allows our body to push that range. In many sports and performance disciplines such as dance, flexibility forms a key part achieving certain skills. On a day to day basis, a good balance of flexibility, strength and stability can help us to improve posture, physical appearance, ability to move freely and be less prone to injuries.
However, flexibility is the opposite of strength and stability and can therefore weaken the joints, so training flexibility and joint stability are being trained equally to support each other. Someone with hyper-flexibility naturally has weaker joints and is at significantly increased risk of injury. Increasing your maximum range of motion with strong joints minimises the risk of injury, and everyday and sporting performance improves significantly.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STRETCHING?
Static stretching (passive): Stretches are held with little or no movement. This is one of the most effective and safe way of developing flexibility, as long as you are warm and you're doing this type of stretching after a workout, not before.
Dynamic stretching (active): These are the most mild type of active stretches that are performed with controlled movement, to enhance the range of motion of the stretch. If you're not in control of the movement, these stretches can become ballistic (see below).
Ballistic stretching (active): Stretches performed with vigorous movement or force, to force a bigger range of motion There is no or very little control as it uses momentum or external force to push the stretch, so it can be very dangerous unless we really know what we're going. We don't recommend this type of stretching unless injury is not something you're worried about!
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) (active): Stretches that work against a contracting force. For example, holding stretch with a contraction, pushing against a partner when stretching, pushing down on an object, barre or exercise band). You can work on PNF stretching on your own simply by holding your stretch without support, for 2-3 seconds and repeat. Once you're reached a minimum of flexibility, PNF stretching will add some strength and stability to your flexibility so it's key to include some of this stretching in your flexibility training.
An example of a mobility dynamic stretch from our new #BodyBeforeSkill Flexibility series:
Body-targeted stretching routines to music by Power Music Cheer
SO SHOULD WE STRETCH OR NOT STRETCH?
Yes, stretching is essential: but it's equally important to know there are two very different ways to approach stretching, and when they should be worked on:
PREPARATORY stretching (ie dynamic stretching) to help you warm up before your training
DEVELOPMENTAL stretching (ie static, pnf, flexibility training) that you work on after or at the end of a training session.
STRETCHING DURING WARMUP SHOULD FOCUS ON:
Preparing all of our joints through mobility, pulse raising and gentle, preparatory stretch exercises
Preparing all bodily systems for the main activity, enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury
Promoting the release of synovial fluid into joints to ensure that they're lubricated properly, and warm up tendons, muscles and ligaments surrounding those joints so that they have more elasticity and can withstand opposing forces
Increase our heart rate, promoting blood flow to our muscles which will make the body warmer
Lengthen muscles and move them through a wider range of motion during a preparatory stretch
Activate our brain and neuromuscular pathways to make our body more efficient and increase reaction time
Current range of motion rather than pushing flexibility further
STRETCHING FOR COOL DOWN & FLEXIBILITY SHOULD FOCUS ON:
Lowering our heart rate back to normal
Leaving us feel relaxed and invigorated
Lengthening muscles back to their pre-workout state and then slightly beyond their current flexibility
Safely increase our long-term flexibility
The exercises performed in this the cool-down should be developmental stretches and should mostly be performed sitting or lying down. Increase in flexibility will be achieved by holding the stretch through a slight tension, releasing, and then pushing further into the stretch. This can be aided if we use a correct breathing technique, breathing in deeply whilst relaxing the stretch, and exhaling slowly whilst taking the stretch further.
TIPS TO SEE FLEXIBILITY GAINS:
To maintain flexibility you need to stretch a minimum of 2 or 3 times a week
To improve flexibility & see gains, you need to stretch of 5 to 7 times a week. This is because you're working against the natural stretch reflex of the neuromuscular system, as well as muscle and tendon fibres restore to their original length overnight.
You need to stretch every day and counter-balance with building joint strength.
For the stretching to be fully effective and to avoid injury, you need to be fully warm when stretching. Whether you're stretching static or with dynamic movement, you need to hold each stretch 15-40 seconds and repeat 2-4 times.
Stretch both sides, never only your "good" side. Only stretching one side can cause serious imbalances in your body, can be cause of injury and reduce your overall flexibility. Aim to achieve a balanced flexibility on both sides and spend time correcting your "bad" side.
Breathe! If you hold your breath when stretching, you're preventing your muscles from
Don't push: similarly to above, if you're pushing and squeezing too hard you're preventing your muscles from relaxing and lengthening. Play in between active and passive stretching but, remember to engage muscles without pushing or squeezing too hard.
Stretch LONG: unless you're specifically stretching your back (in which case it's ok to curve it) you should be stretching LONG with a straight back and engaged core and hips.
STABILITY | MOBILITY | FLEXIBILITY | ACTIVE RANGE | KINESIOLOGICAL STRETCHING
BBS Long & Strong is a tried and tested method offers an individualised approach to flexibility, based on kinesiology and the joy of creativity. The BBS LONG & STRONG training guide and our online videos bring together years of experience and knowledge from a variety of industries: cheerleading, dance, ballet, martial arts, gymnastics, yoga, pilates and corrective movement.