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Understand different types of stretching

This is an excerpt from Professional's Guide to Small-Group Personal Training, A by Keli Roberts.

Before getting started on any specific warm-up or cool-down, some definitions and applications need to be established. It’s important to understand the different types of stretching appropriate for a variety of participants in an SGT class. Different methods are applicable to different phases of the workout and for diverse populations. Not every warm-up or cool-down protocol will suit all participants. The art here is in choosing the best, most appropriate stretches for the type of class and for the level of your students.

Dynamic Movement Stretching

Dynamic movement stretching involves whole-body movements, typically including functional movement patterns in all three planes of motion. These movement flows can be repeated while moving in place or back and forth across the room. This type of stretching is ideal for warm-ups, and can also be used in cool-downs when the workout has been very intense and heart rates are elevated. It is perfect for intermediate to advanced participants who have good body control, balance, and coordination, but is not recommended for extremely deconditioned individuals with poor balance or body control. Dynamic movement stretching should be performed for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the workout.

Active Isolated Stretching

Active isolated stretching involves activating agonists to shut down tight antagonists. For example, one effective chest stretch is to hold the arms out to the side of the body at shoulder height and pull the elbows back by contracting the posterior deltoids and rhomboids (agonists) to lengthen the pectorals (antagonists). This type of stretching is not intended as whole-body integrated stretching; however, some isolated stretches can be included as part of a dynamic warm-up, as an effective cool-down, or as part of the workout. Active isolated stretching is ideally suited for most populations and can be especially helpful as part of a warm-up for less-conditioned participants, because it requires less balance and stability and is performed in more supported environments. This type of stretch can also be helpful for problem areas of the body such as the chest, shoulders, or hips. It is recommended to perform one to two sets of five or more reps, holding the end range of motion for two to five seconds.

Myofascial Release

Utilizing a foam roller or similar device, myofascial release involves rolling tight areas of the body, applying constant pressure back and forth along a small area for 30 to 45 seconds. A small ball can also be helpful for smaller or tighter areas of the body. A knot or particularly uncomfortable section of rolling typically represents muscle fibers that are not in alignment; rolling can therefore help relax and align fibers in the direction of healthy muscles. Rolling can be performed as part of a warm-up routine for more strength-related training, or as part of a cool-down.

This technique is particularly effective for participants with postural imbalances, especially if they are sedentary. For individuals who spend large amounts of time seated, you can expect the hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine to be tight. Tight hips, especially the psoas, can also contribute to tightness in the ankles. If this is the case, starting from the lower extremities and moving up the body is a good strategy.

If you’re short on time, start with the calf, move to the hips, and then move up the back to the thoracic spine. It’s typical to find small areas of the body where the release is more intense. When this is the case, stop and hold the position and focus on breathing. If, for example, there’s a spot on the calf that feels significant, hold with as much pressure as possible and circle the ankle. If the tender spot is on the quadriceps or IT band, try bending and straightening the knee while maintaining constant pressure on top of the knot.

Static Passive Stretching

Static passive stretching is muscle specific and not intended as a whole-body, integrated focus. Static passive stretching is ideal for the end of a cool-down when the goal is to improve flexibility. Static stretching should not be used as a warm-up and should only be used on muscles that are already well warmed up. First, static stretching is a suboptimal method to increase total-body circulation and heat. Once you’ve adequately warmed up the body, muscles are more pliable. There is some controversy surrounding stretching as part of a warm-up, particularly if the workout to follow is high intensity, in which case stretching may actually inhibit the ability to achieve full intensity (Simic, Sarabon, & Markovic, 2013). This inhibition is attributed to the fact that stretching improves muscle elasticity by decreasing muscle viscosity, thereby lowering the force-generating capacity of the contractile proteins of the muscle. If the goal of the group is to improve flexibility, static stretching can be performed after an effective warm-up has been implemented.

Static stretching is suitable for all populations and does not require any special skills or abilities; many of the stretches can be performed supine, side lying, or standing. Perform two to four reps held for 15 to 30 seconds each and target major muscle groups. It is important to note that at around five seconds of stretch tension, individuals may experience a burning sensation. If this occurs, move out of the stretch, relax a moment, and then move back into the position. If shaking occurs at the end range of the stretch, decrease range of motion until the shaking stops to prevent injury. The stretches should feel pleasant and held to a mild, comfortable point of tension.

More Excerpts From Professional's Guide to Small Group Personal Training