Last Updated on January 12, 2015 by Jimson Lee
This is a long overdue updated article to the Nov 2008 post titled Dynamic Warm Up vs. Static Stretching Controversy
Stretching is one of those topics that reminds me of a New York City subway (to quote a Woody Allen movie). Everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinion will be different.
I do like to rename the word stretching to “CHECKING” because, after all, you are simply trying to determine if your muscle is at its optimal length prior to completion. If not, then you have go and increase the warm-up and check again.
[Tweet “STRETCHING should be renamed to CHECKING because you are simply checking muscle length”]
Some people don’t believe in stretching. A police officer wearing boots can break out in a full sprint after sitting in a PC for an hour! No time to stretch!
If I had to summarize what types of stretching exists out there, then I’ll categorize them as two types of stretching (active vs passive) and 3 ways to stretch (static, dynamic and ballistic)
I’m not going to say which one is better because everyone’s needs and background is different. What works for you may not work for me.
My take is, whatever you have to do to get ready before the gun goes off is your own business. Some types of stretching are better before the workout, and others after the workout.
Here are 6 common types of stretching:
- Static Stretching and Micro Stretching
- PNF or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching
- Dynamic stretching
- Dara Torres and Bob Cooley’s Resistance Stretching or Meridian Stretching
- Active Isolated Stretching
- PALO… stretching plus movement
Static Stretching and Micro Stretching
This is the classic stretching poses you see where an athlete holds a certain position anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds.
The image on the left is the classic modern day hamstring stretch. Note how she is not reaching with her arms, rather she is leaning with her hips and mid section.
For the proper function of the musculoskeletal system there needs to be a constant ratio between two things: (1)the force of muscular contraction and (2) resistance of the tendon. Thus, Microstretching is a recovery regeneration technique directed towards the restoration of normal structure and function which can handle increasing loads and stress to the body.
I, personally, found Microstretching highly beneficial, but only at the end of the workout once I have showered and eaten. It is important that the body is still warm. Usually I perform Microstretching while watching TV to cut down the boredom. If you’re going to watch dog jumping, darts, and poker on a Sports Network TV, you might as well do something meaningful.
So I might do a few static stretches after the warm up and before the main workout, but never Microstretching.
The problem with this type of static stretching or Microstretching is the muscle returns to its previous state (or length) after a couple of hours. They’ve done studies with cadavers and long term continuous muscle stretching and they concluded it would take weeks before a noticeable physical change took place. Thanks, but I don’t want to take part in that study.
The main difference between the two is static stretching requires effort and sometimes you are not balanced or stable when performing the exercises. Instability means movement or jerky motions. And that is bad.
With Microstretching, your body is always stable and the natural bodyweight or gravity (or Microstretching Therapist!) will perform the load.
The image on the left is a classic Microstretching hamstring stretch.
These are very low intensity stretches, much less than 50% of perceived exertion. (As low as 30%!)
Why is a “low intensity” load required?
There are two specialized receptor tissues of the muscle and tendon: the muscle spindle fibers and the Golgi tendon organs. The muscle spindle senses muscle lengthening while the Golgi tendon organ senses tension. These two mechanisms prevents damage to your body to both muscles and tendons.
How long to stretch? There are several studies out there. Phil Campbell recommends 30 seconds stretch per hold, while Microstretching experts recommend 3 sets of 60 seconds stretch per hold per limb. That’s 6 minutes per muscle part! Thus, 45-60 minute sessions with a Microstretching Therapist is not uncommon.
Whatever you choose, I recommend using a stopwatch that can repeat a beeper sound every 30 or 60 seconds.
PNF or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching
This image on the left is the classic type of Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (or PNF) hamstring stretch for sprinters.
Also known as Partner Assisting Facilitated Stretching (or PAF) or simply Facilitated Stretching.
It is not really a type of stretching but is a technique of combining passive stretching and Isometric stretching in order to achieve maximum static flexibility or muscle length.
Like Pilates, where it was invented for bed ridden patients during World War 1, PNF was initially developed as a method of rehabilitating stroke victims. (Just like Income Tax was a temporary measure to collect revenue for the government! Truth is stranger than fiction)
PNF is simply a series of post-isometric relaxation stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance (with or without a partner or device) while in the stretched position. Rinse and repeat to increased the range of motion for that muscle group.
To complicate matters, for example, you can contract the hamstring muscle (by pushing against a partner) for the hamstring stretch, or you can contract the antagonist muscle group too (the quads). There are a lot of variations.
The most common PNF stretching techniques are the hold-relax for beginners and the hold-relax-contract methods. Hold times and contraction times will vary, but anywhere form 10-15 seconds for the contraction and 15-20 seconds for the relaxation.
Dynamic Stretching is great for the warm up and not to be confused with drills.
Dynamic stretching tries to incorporate more sport-specific movements.
A typical warm-up includes starting off with a light jog followed by Butt Kicks, Side Shuffles, Hop Openers, Walking Lunges, or Backward Pedals… the variations are endless.
The key goal for the muscles is reach, speed, and movement. All the movement is controlled. There is NO BALLISTIC movement, as ballistic movements tend to go beyond the range of motion for that particular exercise.. There are also no bouncing or jerking motions.
Even on the ground, you can do dynamic stretching (see image above).
In this example, the athlete lies on their back and swings their leg in the opposite direction. The purpose is for the lower back, hips and buttocks. Then the same exercise is repeated with the athlete lying face down on their stomach. Start with slow and short range of motions and gradually build up to quicker and longer ranges.
Anywhere from 8-12 reps per exercise should be sufficient.
For more information, see Dynamic Stretching: The Revolutionary New Warm-up Method to Improve Power, Performance and Range of Motion
Bob Cooley’s Resistance Stretching or Meridian Stretching
When a 42 year old has a body of a 21 year old, and can still compete at the world class level, and be a medal contender, everyone takes notice. Coupled that with good looks, and marketing folks will have a field day. If Dara Torres says her secret to competing is eating Corn Flakes, then a lot of you will go out and buy Corn Flakes.
In this case, Dara has quoted her secret to success was Resistance Stretching and has come out with her own DVD Resistance Stretching With Dara Torres.
Credit goes to Bob Cooley, the creator of Resistance Flexibility & Strength Training (Meridian Flexibility System) and author of The Genius of Flexibility: The Smart Way to Stretch and Strengthen Your Body and the accompanying Genius of Flexibility DVD
Resistance Stretching is simply 16 different types of stretches: eight for the upper and eight for the lower body, each one uniquely defined by bone rotational interrelationships and specific muscle groups. Each type of stretch provides the best leverage to stretch individual or synergistic groups of muscles.
Each type of stretch also creates accompanying and predictable physiological and psychological improvements in a person. This system embodies a balanced approach to physical and mental fitness. It is a predictable, noninvasive, preventative health program with resulting gains in physical strength and functioning, psychological fitness, and spiritual and emotional development.
These exact relations between muscle groups, different kinds of stretches, energy meridians, physiological functions, and personality traits became known as The Meridian Flexibility System.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active Isolated Stretching is made popular by two gurus: Aaron Mattes and the father-son team of Jim and Phil Wharton
Active Isolated Stretching is a cross between the slow, static, yoga-like stretches most runners do before the main workout (or during the warm-up) and the ballistic leg swings and kicks seen performing before they compete. An example is a sprinter getting into the blocks. Or a punt returner or field goal kicker in football before the actual kick.
With ballistic stretching, the stretch reflex, or the myotatic reflex, prevents your muscle from tearing and injury. In theory, this occurs around three seconds into a stretch.
Thus, Active Isolated Stretching holds a stretch for only one or two seconds before the stretch reflex kicks in, then relax the position, and repeats it 8-12 times. Over the course of each set of stretching repeats, the muscles exhibit a greater range of motion.
The “assisted” component of Active Isolated Stretching requires an 8 foot rope folded and wrapped around the foot (see image). Otherwise, you will need another person or therapist.
Note the other leg is bent.
Like PNF Stretching, you can contract the antagonist muscle group for a better effect (i.e. contract the quads, then stretch the hamstrings, rinse and repeat)
For runners, the routine consists of 25 different stretches for the lower body, which can be performed in about 20 minutes.
PALO, which means “STICK” in Spanish, is based on the concept that stretching plus movement achieves proper fitness and overall wellness.
Each PALO pose starts with an elongation stretch and then a movement. You either maintain or increase that elongated stretch during the movement. There are over 800 stretches and exercises that can be performed with PALO, and the numbers keep increasing every week.
PALO exercises are designed to challenge the whole body and improve the 5 components of dynamic posture: movement, balance, strength, flexibility and range of motion. Dynamic Posture is basically a series of postures linked together to produce a single efficient movement. PALO improves static and dynamic posture through its unique stretching plus movement poses.
Unlike traditional stretching, PALO comprises of non linear stretching and non-linear rotational stretches.
PALO is also great for performing a dynamic warm up. Like yoga, it improves ability to breath with consciousness.
More information can be found at Palofitness.com
Great post Jimson! You’re right what may work for one athlete doesn’t always work for another. I just started doing more PNF stretching with my therapist before I run this season and I feel its the fastest and most effective way to increase static-passive flexibility. The body has to be really warmed up though, but after I feel great and ready to roll!
Jimson Lee says
@Justyn – Good poiint, I persoanlly hated PNF stretching… I felt I lost the “tonus” or tone in my muscles. The muscles and fibers and spindles all have an optimal length, and it just didn’t work for me, at least mentally. Same with race day massages… I made me too loose.
Thanks Jimson for including PALO in the article.
PALO trains these five areas of dynamic posture: strength, flexibility, range of motion, balance and movement by incorporating over 1000 different stretches, drills and exercises that are proprioceptive and kinesthetic demanding, into a well rounded and diverse fitness and wellness routine.
Randy Bauer says
Follower of your speedendurance as I train and provide physical Therapy to high school up to pro and olympic level athletes(Kiraly, Moses, R.Jackson, M. Chang, Julius Kuriuki, and others). Name dropping not necessary other than to catch your ear/eyes.
I am opening my eyes to this PALO concept which I think has great application. I must add that your explanation of PNF is lacking. I have practiced PNF in the ortho setting for some time now. A major component that most novices leave out of a PNF stretch is the rotational component of the stretch. All PNF stretch techniques are used in diagonal patterns of movement to gain a facilitation or inhibition of the muscle group. There are actually 8 major principles of PNF that goes beyond this comment. I will continue to research PALO and continue to follow your site. Great content. Keep up the good work, and take care. Randy Bauer (https://plus.google.com/u/0/105250836780181048166/about)
Jimson Lee says
@Randy, yes, that article was a very high level one, written almost 3 years ago.
My good friend Jay Johnson of http://www.coachjayjohnson.com/ teamed up with Phil Wharton and made some videos for sale which I’ll be reviewing soon (I have a stack of books and DVDs a meter high) so I haven’t reviewed it:
Every PALO stretch has a rotational movement to it. With PALO you can target any one muscle or group of muscles very easily. PALO has 3 series of movement stretches , hip, neck and spine, feet and ankle, that is really good at getting a person limbered up. @ Randy if you like a demo just contact me.
Video of PALO hip series, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRLGCE_QFNo
Video of PALO Knobster, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRBWGRSIFM4
Video of PALO Classic and Kink with a good ITB strtech
Jimson Lee says
@adarian, thanks! Very helpful videos!