Types of stretching (not only for yoga)
There are different types of ways of stretching, each of them with different porpoises and effects in our body. While some of them are used a lot in yoga and acroyoga, others are more common in other sports or activities. We used to explain some of these concepts during our yoga and acroyoga retreats and of course, we practice them in all our classes and when we have the time for it, we go deeper into the theory about our body.
Following descriptions of the seven types of stretching, are written in an easy, straightforward and with as many examples as possible, we love examples because they are one of the best ways to quick and permanent earning. The goal of these articles is to make the theory accessible and understandable for everyone.
As we mentioned just before, there are seven types of stretching and those we can divide into two categories:
Static: they do not involve motion (e.g. forward seated fold). These are related mainly to static stretches but to some degree as well to our dynamic flexibility.
Dynamic: they involve motion (e.g. when you do circles with your arms before a game). These stretches affect our dynamic flexibility.
Let’s start by the static stretches that are more related to our yoga and acroyoga practice.
It is considered as a relaxed stretching, in this one we go into the pose and hold it with other parts of your body, with the assistance of another person or some props. So that when you go into the pose you are in a “passive” mode.
Examples: almost all yoga poses, overall the yin yoga poses, wide-leg stretch pose A holding your leg with your arm / with the teacher’s help / placing it on to a gymnastics bar, reverse hand prayer with a belt.
increase your static flexibility,
cooling down after a training (reduce soreness and muscle fatigue),
relieve spasms in muscles in the process of healing after an injury (check with your doctor).
Not to be confused with the previous one, because this has the goal of bringing a muscle or a group of them to its farthest point of motion and then holding the pose there without an external force.
Examples: yoga poses performed alone and without props.
Benefits: same as mentioned for passive stretching.
It is a mix of previous both stretching (passive and active). That means you go into a pose and then hold it with the help of the strength of your antagonist muscles (the muscle that acts in opposition to the muscle that you are using to do a movement).
· increase active flexibility,
· strengthens the antagonist's muscle,
· relax the stretched muscles with the tension of the antagonist muscles (reciprocal inhibition).
How to do active stretches: as much as you can but no longer than 15 seconds, they are difficult to perform and there is rarely needed to go beyond this timing.
Examples: wide-leg stretch pose C (standing and then extending the leg in front of you), mountain pose with arms extended over the head.
Very similar to the ballistic stretching (previous one), but with the important difference that the movements are controlled and gently towards the limits of range of motion. The goal is to increase gradually reach, speed of movement or both.
Examples: controlled and slow swings of arms, legs, torso...
increase your dynamic flexibility,
before an active workout (e.g. running) as a warm-up.
How to do dynamic stretches: 8-12 repetitions, stopping when it feels tired.
Why to stop stretching when a muscle feels tired? Because it could even reduce flexibility, since tired muscles have less elasticity. Continuing exercising while tired, will reset the nervous control of the muscle length and therefore reduce the range of motion, as the kinesthetic memory remembers the repeated shorted range of motion of the muscle and then you will need to overcome again before making any further progress.
This one you probably remember as you were a kid and before a game you moved your body and specially your limbs over, they normal range of motion and forcing your muscles beyond their natural movement range. In this one, we use the already stretched muscle as a spring to bounce into and out of, going out of the desired stretched position.
Examples: “warming up”, standing forward fold and then bouncing up and down repeatedly to touch you’re the floor, bouncing movements.
Benefits: if possible, never. It is not really useful unless you need necessarily your muscles to move to their maximum range of motion. Otherwise it can lead to injuries, because you are not allowing your muscle to relax into the stretched position and hence tighten them up as you activate repeatedly your stretch reflex. So, unless you are a professional athlete that needs to give over 100% before the game, try to avoid these stretches and rather try the next one.
Bringing resistance to a muscle or group of them through isometric contractions. What are isometric contractions? The typical ways of bringing resistance are: manually with the owns limbs, with external materials (wall, floor…) or with a partner.
Best way to perform it: in the passive stretch position of the muscle, tensed the stretched muscle against some force in-between 8 to 15 seconds, release and relax it for 20 seconds.
Examples: while standing you point your toes up while the ball of your foot remains on the floor, “push-the-wall” same pose as before but your metatarsals are pressing a wall, while lying upwards a partner holds your leg up while you try to bring it back to the floor your leg,
one of the fastest ways to increase static flexibility,
more effective than static and passive stretching,
strengthen the tensed muscle,
“reduce” the amount of the typical pain with stretching.
Not recommended for children and teenagers, their bones are still growing, and they are usually still very flexible and isometric stretching could be counterproductive. As well more effective to be performed after a dynamic stretch training and for a full session of a muscle ideally leave more than 36 hours as a break.
Last but not least, a type of stretching that may not be so familiar as the ones mentioned before. But is the most effective and fastest way of increasing static flexibility.
PNF = proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
In other words, it is a technique that combines passive and isometric stretching. That means a group or just a muscle is passively stretched, then during this stretch is isometrically stretched against any type of resistance and then it is again passively stretched taking profit of the increase in range of motion. After a cycle, the stretched muscle should be at least 20 seconds in rested mode. It can be performed alone, but it is more effective with a partner. This cycle should be repeated as a maximum of 5 times, some studies even mentioned that with one cycle is as effective as doing more, with the consequent reduction of training time.
The benefits are clear, since PNF takes immediately advantage of the isometric stretch by bringing the muscle into a passive stretch. Even though they should be performed with the guidance of an expert and some PNF methods are only recommended for professional athlete and dances, which I high level of muscle consciousness. Otherwise the increase of flexibility could be turned out into injuries, as muscles torns.
The same rules as mentioned by the isometric stretch are valid here: no recommended for kids and teenagers and for adults always more than 36 hours trainings.
We are not professionals in anatomy, physiology… this article is intended just to be an introductory and basic explanation of types of stretches, further readings and consultancy of experts as doctors should be realised in case of need for extended information and methods. We wrote it with the passion and love that we share for the practice of yoga and acroyoga, and in general for sports and the self-consciousness of our bodies. In this sense, if you have any real experience, other techniques, etc. do not hesitate to share them with us.
To conclude, we are not doctors and do not intent to be one, so we do not held any responsibility for any injury or damage you could have due to this reading. Listen and trust to your body, so from the first doubt that you could have check with a doctor your exercises and routine,
But of course, we wish you a deep, productive and of course enjoyable practice!