All about stretching

While controversial, stretching can have real benefits if done right. Static, dynamic, active, passive ... Discover the different stretching techniques as well as our advice for practicing these exercises in the best conditions.

 Why stretch?

A stretch is simply a lengthening of the muscles . Practiced regularly, it allows to gain in muscular flexibility , but also in articular amplitude .

In an extra sporting setting, stretching will promote the release of muscle tension caused by stress and the taking of bad positions for prolonged periods. Often, back pain and neck pain are due to the build-up of tension. Achieving flexibility at the end of the day is an effective solution to relax muscles and eliminate pain.

For the athlete, stretching mainly makes it possible to obtain muscle relaxation after exercise, and thus to optimize recovery. The main objective is to make the muscle regain its initial length .

In the practice of activities where flexibility is a performance factor (such as dance or gymnastics), the integration of stretching exercises in the warm-up protocol is also interesting in order to better prepare the patients. muscles and joints to achieve large amplitude movements. The stretches here will be dynamic.

All about stretching


Stretching before the effort improves performance and prevents injuries: FALSE !!!

 Several studies have proven  that  doing stretching exercises before training or competition has a negative influence on efforts of speed, strength and relaxation. In addition, the analgesic effect of stretching and microtrauma due to these exercises tend to increase the risk of injury during the efforts that will follow their execution.

 Stretching immediately after exercise promotes recovery: FALSE !!!

Stretching causes the blood vessels to compress, slowing blood circulation. However, the influx of blood into the muscle is essential for good recovery, because it allows in particular to drain waste. Stretching immediately after exercise should therefore be avoided. Ideally, wait at least 30 minutes before practicing your relaxations.

Stretching helps relieve muscle stiffness: FALSE !!!

Aches correspond to an inflammatory reaction of the organism to repair the muscular micro-lesions due to an unusual effort. Stretching a stiff muscle will only worsen these micro-lesions, and in no way reduce the pain.

 The different stretching methods


This technique consists in carrying out a progressive tensioning of the muscles , then to maintain the position without moving during several tens of seconds (20 to 60). Static stretching is the best known and most practiced. They are used in particular during stretching sessions, to improve flexibility.

Conversely, during dynamic stretching, the muscles are always in motion. The stretching phase is immediately followed by the relaxation phase . There is no downtime when the muscles are stretched. Very often, dynamic stretching is practiced during the warm-up as part of a muscular preparation for the effort.

One of the most well-known dynamic stretching techniques is undoubtedly the ballistic method , which involves swinging an arm or a leg to an extreme position. The movement is initiated by the contraction of the antagonist muscle (opposite) which will cause the stretching of the agonist muscle (the one you want to stretch) but also the reflex contraction of the latter (myotatic reflex). The alternation of these phases of contraction and relaxation will thus promote the heating of this agonist muscle.

 Example : Ballistic stretching of the adductor muscles (inner thighs) -> I “throw” my leg to the side thanks to the contraction of the small and middle gluteal muscles, my adductor muscles are stretched then contract by reflex.

 However, be careful with this method, which can cause injury if it is poorly controlled.

Passive stretching consists of stretching the muscle slowly using an external force (support on a support, gravity, self-manipulation, partner, etc.).

 Example : take his ankle and bring the heel towards the buttock to stretch the quadriceps ( muscles of the front of the thigh ).

In this method, the stretch is obtained by the contraction of the antagonist muscle .

Example : Active stretching of the hamstrings (posterior part of the thighs): in a sitting position, I stretch my leg upwards. Here, it is the contraction of my quadriceps (antagonist muscle) that allows to obtain a stretch of the hamstrings.

This technique consists of stretching the muscle and contracting it for a few seconds, then following a short period of relaxation (2 to 3 seconds) to follow up with dynamic exercises (heels-buttocks, knee lifts, hopping, etc.). Activo-dynamic stretching is interesting to integrate into a warm-up protocol.

Also known under the names PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) or contracted relaxed (CR), the activo-passive technique consists in linking 3 phases. Muscle in a stretch position, perform a static contraction against resistance for 5 to 6 seconds, then release the contraction for 2 to 3 seconds, and finish with a gradual stretch of about ten seconds.

 When to stretch

Before exercise: dynamic, ballistic, or activo-dynamic stretching.
After exercise and on a daily basis: static, passive, active or activo-passive stretching.

 8 tips for good stretching

  • Stretch warm .
  • Do not stretch on injured or sore muscles .
  • If practiced after training or competition, wait at least 30 minutes before stretching, or even longer if the effort has been violent.
  • Always stretch gradually and smoothly (except specific techniques such as the ballistic method).
  • When stretching you should feel a slight muscle tension, but the exercise should not be painful .
  • Always breathe out when you are stretching.
  • Alternately stretch your agonist and antagonist muscles .
  • Repeat your stretching exercises several times.

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