The Importance of Stretching and Mobility

By Joe Serpe

here are so many great reasons to integrate stretching into your daily fitness routine. Stretching increases blood flow, improves performance, and reduces chance of injury. It can also increase range of motion (ROM), improve mobility, and is excellent for pre-workout warmups and post-training recovery.

Most think of stretching as the lengthening of a certain muscle or muscles to reduce
tension, or the increase of range of motion through a specific joint. Both are true to an extent, but increased flexibility is short lived. Studies looking at long-term stretching, over a 3-4 week period reveal improvements in flexibility and range, however no change in viscoelasticity (1 and 2).

According to musculoskeletal expert Dr. Andreo Spina, developer of the Functional Range Conditioning® method of flexibility training, viscoelasticity refers to the property of some materials that exhibit both “viscous” and “elastic” characteristics when undergoing deformation. Deformation is a change in the shape or size of an object due to an applied force (3). Human muscle is both viscous and elastic, meaning when force is applied the muscle shape can change, but once force is removed the muscle will return to its original shape.

So improvements in flexibility come from the nervous system which allows the muscle tissue to stretch more, not from a permanently lengthened muscle. The goal of stretching is to increase range of motion with control; this will help the body to get stronger and more stable during exercise.

Dynamic, Static or Both?

Depending on when you stretch, there are two methods to consider: dynamic stretching and static stretching.

Dynamic Stretching (Pre-Workout) - active stretching within controlled movements. This type of stretching has shown to improve athletic performance when performed before a workout, as part of a warmup. Examples include high knees, skip for height, Frankenstein walks, etc. 

Static Stretching (Post-Workout) - isolated stretches hold a position for 20 seconds or more in order to elongate a muscle. Static stretches are performed after workouts, when you body is limber. Examples can include toe touches, trunk rotation, quad or hamstring stretch, etc.

Be sure to incorporate both dynamic and static stretching into your training regimen.

References:

1. Magnusson SP, Simonsen EB, Aagaard P, Soukka A, Kjaer M. A mechanism for altered flexibility in human skeletal muscle. J Physiol (Lond) 1996;497:291-298.

2. Halbertsma JPK, Goeken LNH. Stretching exercises: effect on passive extensibility and stiffness in short hamstrings of healthy subjects. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1994;75:976-981.

3. Spina, A., Dr. (2012). Introducing the Functional Range Conditioning(F.R.C)™ method of flexibility training …..an introduction to stretching and its various myths.