Stretching Programs 2012
The following programs can be prescribed for anyone who is interested in improving flex-ibility, strength, and strength endurance. To make changes to any of these areas, you need
to be involved in a regular stretching program, preferably as a daily routine or as close to
that as possible. Changes will not come in a day or two but rather after a dedicated effort
of several weeks. You can incorporate these programs with or without any other kind of
exercise routine. According to the latest research, heavy stretching, even without any other
exercise activity, can bring about changes in flexibility, strength, and muscular endurance.
As in any other exercise program, progression is an integral part of a successful stretch-ing program. The stretching progression should be gradual, going from a lighter load with
less time spent on each stretch to a heavier load with more time spent on each stretch. For
the programs outlined in this introduction, you should begin with the initial program, or
level I, and then progress through to level V. However, you may customize this program
according to your current level of experience and flexibility. Generally, working through each
level at the recommended speed will result in meaningful and consistent workouts. After
such workouts, you will find improved flexibility in the muscles you worked as well as the
satisfaction of having done something beneficial.
Intensity is always a critical factor when you want changes and improvements to come
from an exercise program. In a stretching routine, intensity is controlled by the amount of
pain associated with the stretch. Using a pain scale from 0 to 10, initial pain is light (scale of
1 to 3) and usually dissipates as the time of stretching is extended. Light stretching occurs
when you stretch a particular muscle group only to a point where you feel the stretch with
an associated light pain. Moderate stretching (scale of 4 to 6) occurs when you start to feel
increased, or “medium,” pain in the muscle you’re stretching. In heavy stretching (scale of
7 to 10), you will initially experience a moderate to heavy pain at the start of the stretch,
but this pain slowly dissipates as stretching continues. Research studies have shown that
heavier stretches rather than lighter stretches provide greater improvements in flexibility
and strength. Thus, you are the key to your own success, and how well you are able to
monitor stretch intensity and tolerate the pain level determines how quick and large the
improvements will be.
The following are several chronic training benefits gained from using a regular stretching
• Improved flexibility, stamina (muscular endurance), and muscular strength. The degree
of benefit depends on how much stress is put on the muscle. Medium or heavy
stretches are recommended. You can do this by building up to doing long stretches
of high intensity (see the next section for a detailed explanation of light, medium,
and heavy stretching).
• Reduced muscle soreness, aches, and pains. Use only very light stretches if muscle
• Improved flexibility with the use of static or PNF stretches. Medium or heavy stretches
• Good muscular and joint mobility.
• More efficient muscular movements and fluidity of motion.
• Greater ability to exert maximum force through a wider range of motion.
• Prevention of some lower back problems.
• Improved appearance and self-image.
• Improved body alignment and posture.
• Better warm-up and cool-down in an exercise session.
Types of Stretching
In general, any movement that requires moving a body part to the point at which there
is an increase in the movement of a joint can be called a stretching exercise. Stretching
can be done either actively or passively. Active stretching occurs when the person doing
the stretch is the one holding the body part in the stretched position. Passive stretching
occurs when someone else moves the person to the stretch position and then holds the
person in the position for a set time. The four major types of stretches are static,
proprio-ceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), ballistic, and dynamic.
The static stretch is used most often. In static stretching, one stretches a particular muscle or group of muscles by
slowly moving the body part into position and then holding the stretch for a set time.
Since the static stretch begins with a relaxed muscle and then applies the stretch slowly,
static stretching does not activate the stretch reflex (the knee jerk seen when the tendon
is tapped with a mallet). Activation of the stretch reflex causes the stretched muscle to
contract instead of elongate. This contraction of the muscle is directly opposite of the intent
of the exercise. PNF stretching refers to a stretching technique in which a fully contracted
muscle is stretched by moving a limb through the joint’s range of motion. After moving
through the complete range of motion, the muscle is relaxed and rested before resuming
the procedure. The combination of muscle contraction and stretching serves to relax the
muscles used to maintain muscle tone. This relaxation allows for increased flexibility by
“quieting” the internal forces in both the muscles that assist and the ones that oppose the
movement of the joint in the desired direction. Ballistic stretching uses muscle contractions
to force muscle elongation through bobbing movements where there is no pause at any
point in the movement. Although the bobbing movement quickly elongates the muscle
with each repetition, the bobbing also activates the stretch reflex (or knee jerk) response.
Since the stretch reflex stimulates the muscle groups to contract after the stretch is finished,
ballistic stretching is usually discouraged. Dynamic stretching refers to the stretching that
occurs while performing sport-specific movements. Dynamic stretching is similar to ballistic
stretching in that both use fast body movements to cause muscle stretch, but dynamic
stretching does not employ bouncing or bobbing. Additionally, dynamic stretching uses
only the muscle actions specific to a sport. Practically speaking, dynamic stretching is similar
to performing a sport-specific warm-up (that is, performing the movements required for
the activity but at a lower intensity).
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