Introduction To Stretching

Avatar for Hadyn Luke Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 14th of November 2023 Hadyn Luke 14/11/2023


Introduction To Stretching

Flexibility refers to the range of movement possible at a joint or joints and will be influenced by the type of joint (ball and socket, hinge etc).

The agonist or prime mover creates movement at a movable or semi­-movable joint.

The range through which the joint will move will be determined by its structure, the muscles and connective tissue that surround it.

Restricted range of movement or lack of flexibility makes joints prone to injury, therefore, maintaining full, potential range of movement can reduce the risk of injury as well as improving posture and assisting in daily tasks.


Stretching the muscles can improve range of movement and flexibility.

A stretch is created when the two ends of a muscle are moved apart by:

  • The contraction of the opposing muscle
  • The effects of gravity
  • Supporting the limb by another limb or structure

There are various types of stretching:

  • Static
  • Dynamic
  • Ballistic
  • Active
  • Passive

The Stretch Reflex

Within the muscle fibres are sensors called Muscle Spindles (Proprioceptors) that monitor tension and changes in the muscle length. During a rapid stretching movement each muscle spindle sends a message via the motor neurons to the braining. This is a warning that the muscle and connective tissues are being stretched too rapidly and may become damaged.

This is known as the “Stretch Reflex”. Its purpose is to protect the muscle and connective tissues. The faster the stretching movement, the stronger the stretch reflex action will be.

Ballistic stretching elicits a strong stretch reflex, which increases the risk of injury. Ballistic stretches are common in certain sports and dance styles and are more suited to sports/dance performers than the general public.

The stretch reflex will be much milder if the stretch is performed slowly and with control as in static and dynamic stretching, making it safe and more suitable for health related benefits.

Factors Affecting Flexibility

  • Joint type, i.e. ball & socket, hinge etc.
  • Joint structure, i.e. tightness of muscles, tendons and ligaments.
  • Temperature of the environment and body temperature.
  • Type of stretching, i.e. dynamic, ballistic, or static and the stretch reflex.
  • Age, physiological changes in the joints and connective tissue.
  • Gender, physiological differences.
  • Body type.

When To Stretch In An Exercise Session

Dynamic Stretching is incorporated into the warm-up to prepare the muscles for work. Static stretches are included in the cool-down component to maintain and improve the range of movement of all the muscles that have been used through the session.

Cool Down Theory

The cool down is a period of time that allows the body and mind to return to a non-exercising state. It consists of activities that allow the heart rate and blood flow to reduce, stretching exercises and relaxation techniques.

A safe and effective cool down will achieve the following:

  • Prevent blood pooling.
  • Assist with the dispersal of lactic acid.
  • Maintain and develop range of movement.
  • Reduce tension.

Stretching exercises aim to:

  • Maintain an individual’s normal range of movement following training, termed “maintenance” stretches.
  • Help relieve muscle tension following training
  • Aid Relaxation
  • Improve an individual’s flexibility and full functional range of movement following training, termed “developmental” stretches
  • Help prevent injury from daily activities
  • Improve performance in all activities by ensuring ease of movement.

Developmental Stretching

Developmental stretching is a type of stretching that aims to increase the range of motion and length of the muscles. It is usually done after a workout, when the muscles are warm and relaxed. Developmental stretching involves holding a static stretch for 30 seconds, and increasing the intensity of the stretch every 10 seconds. This helps to overcome the stretch reflex and achieve autogenic inhibition, which is a decrease in muscle tension due to the activation of Golgi tendon organs.

Some examples of developmental stretches are:

  • Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other leg raised in the air. Hold your raised leg with your hands or a strap and gently pull it towards your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then increase the stretch slightly and hold for another 10 seconds. Repeat once more for a total of 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Quadriceps stretch: Stand on one leg and bend your other leg behind you. Grab your foot or ankle with your hand and gently pull it towards your buttocks. Keep your knees close together and your hips aligned. Hold for 10 seconds, then increase the stretch slightly and hold for another 10 seconds. Repeat once more for a total of 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Chest stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms extended behind you. Clasp your hands together or hold a towel or strap. Lift your arms up and back as far as you can without arching your back. Hold for 10 seconds, then increase the stretch slightly and hold for another 10 seconds. Repeat once more for a total of 30 seconds.

Developmental stretching can have many benefits, such as:

  • Relaxation
  • Injury prevention
  • Better posture
  • Increased blood supply and nutrients to the muscles
  • Reduced stiffness and soreness
  • Improved performance

Developmental stretching works with the stretch reflex. Its aims are to develop an individual’s range of movement in specific muscles or groups of muscles.

The limb being stretched should be moved slowly into the stretch to a point of mild tension. This will initiate a mild reflex action in the muscle, which will cause only weak contraction. The limb should be held still in this position. Once the muscle has become used to the position the muscle will relax, this is called “de-sensitisation”. Once de-sensitisation has occurred, the limb can be moved a little deeper into the stretch until the next point of tension is reached. This position is then held again until de-sensitisation is achieved and so on.

De-sensitising the muscle in this way allows you to lengthen further. In order to achieve improvement in an individual’s range of movement, the targeted muscle groups should be developed progressively for 15-30 seconds.

Specific muscles such as the hamstrings and adductors are typically short in most people as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. For this reason, these groups should be developmentally stretched at the end of every training session.

Other specific muscles may also benefit from developmental stretching. For example, individuals who work over a desk or computer for long periods may find that their pectorals are shortened and would benefit from being developmentally stretched. Individuals with postural imbalances may also benefit from developing greater flexibility in specific areas.

Maintenance Stretching

Maintenance stretching is a type of stretching that aims to return the muscles to their normal length after exercise and prevent stiffness and soreness. It is usually done during the cool-down phase of a workout, and involves holding each stretch for about 10 to 15 seconds. Maintenance stretching can help improve flexibility, posture, and movement efficiency, as well as reduce the risk of injury and muscle tension. Some examples of maintenance stretches are the standing gastrocnemius stretch, the standing hamstrings stretch, the pectoralis major stretch, and the quadriceps stretch.

Applying The FITTA Principle To Stretching

Points to remember when ending a session with an appropriate cool down and flexibility exercises:

Deliver a safe and effective cool down ensuring that:

  • Sufficient time is allowed, taking into account fitness levels and experience
  • Exercises selected are appropriate and relate to the environment, temperature, time of day, purpose of the cool down, participant’s ability, duration and intensity of the session
  • You are able to adapt the cool down to accommodate participant and environment needs, skill/fitness level: (stretching, development and maintenance, some could be performed whilst on a CV machine, if appropriate to participants needs).

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