So what kind and type of stretching routine do you do? BioMechanix performs PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), and Passive Stretching on their clients after their training session to improve flexibility. We also teach AIS (Active Isolative Stretching) routines for our clients to do on their own. Flexibility is defined as the range of possible movement in a joint, and it’s surrounding muscle groups. Although there are many forms of stretching, we are going to go over the three mentioned above.

Why is flexibility important? Your body’s range of motion (ROM) is inhibited by tight muscles, which in turn put your body at risk of tearing and pulling them. Being systematically tight overall will cause unnecessary stress on your joints and bones, causing you to place undue strain on them. This will result in poor body alignment and posture, and create inefficient mechanics. Likewise, being hyper-mobile can cause joint subluxion and dislocation, allowing the joint too much mobility. There are recommended flexibility ranges for your muscles in correlation with your joints. This can be measured by the use of a goniometer in exact degrees. For example, functional ranges of motion measured in a supine position for the hamstring muscle group is between 90 and 110 degrees (male, female), latissimus dorsi 180 degrees, hip adductors 45 degrees, and dorsi flexion of ankle should be 20 degrees ROM.

Stretching should be performed before an athletic event to help prevent injury, and afterward to help prevent muscle soreness. Post activity stretching helps facilitate a greater ROM due to increased muscle temperature. Here at BioMechanix, we refer to this as the “thawing out” stage. It is like taking a piece of frozen meat and letting it thaw out, therefore allowing it to have an increased potential for movement. A frozen piece of meat is very cold and stiff, and is pretty inflexible compared to the thawed out one.

PNF stretching is typically done with a partner that provides manual assistance. The athlete that is being stretched performs alternating contractions of the agonist or antagonist muscle groups. For example when stretching the hamstring muscle groups in a supine position, the athlete being stretched begins an isometric contraction of the quadriceps muscle group and a concentric contraction of the hip flexors. The assisting partner pushes against the leg for a 4-6 second duration, tells the athlete being stretched to relax the contracted muscle group, and then lets off the pressure. This is repeated for three to five times. This is also known as “Contraction-Relax” PNF stretching. Another variation of this is called the “Slow-Reversal –Hold-Relax” PNF stretch. This is when the stretch partner increases the range of motion in the area being stretched immediately after the relax stage of the agonist muscle group.

Passive stretching is similar to PNF, but does not include any muscular contractions. This can be performed with a partner or with the assistance of a rope, or towel. Passive and PNF stretching are great modalities of stretching because they provide assisted resistance against the muscle groups being stretched. They both aid in increased and greater flexibility. It offer’s more of a stretch, that the athlete may be able to attain on their own.

Active Isolation Stretching (AIS) is a fantastic modality for athletes to perform on their own. It involves dynamic muscle and joint movement, an isometric contraction, and stretching of the given muscle group. This type of stretching is very therapeutic and serves as a great pre-activity warm up, and cool down due to increased blood flow to the muscles. Pioneered by Jim and Phil Wharton through the tutelage of Aaron Mattes, Jim and Phil published a book titled “ The Wharton’s Stretch Book- Featuring The Breakthrough Method of Active Isolated Stretching”. Published in 1996, this is a stretching book we recommend to all of our clients. AIS is based on elongating the particular muscle group by direct movement of the joint that corresponds to it, with the aid of a rope or band. Then contracting the immediate, opposing muscle group in an isometric manner. This position is held for a full two-second duration, then relaxing the muscle group, and returning the body part back to starting position. So the sequence is: start position, dynamic joint movement, contraction, increase joint angle by lightly pulling on rope, hold for two seconds, relaxation of muscle, return to start position. The reason for the two second hold is to avoid the onset of the myotatic response. It is an automatic protective mechanism that is triggered within a muscle when it is elongated for duration longer than two seconds, protecting it from tearing or being strained. The idea of a two second hold is to stretch the muscle within the time period before this occurrence takes place.

An example of AIS for the hamstring muscle group would to be in a supine hook lying position. This is done while lying on your back, with both knees bent, and both feet on ground, maintaining a neutral spine and five point contact position. Extending one leg out straight, with a rope around mid foot, slowly raise leg up straight by concentrically contracting hip flexor, not pulling on rope to raise leg. When leg is at furthest it can go, contract quadriceps isometric ally, and pull slightly on rope to get a deeper stretch.
Hold this position for a one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand count and then slowly lower leg to floor without aid of rope. This is repeated five to ten times on each side. The concentric muscle action coupled with the stretch makes this an active, dynamic, stretch routine, causing more blood flow to the surrounding muscle area. This allows the muscle to attain a greater ROM and can also serve as a great warm up. It is an ideal modality to perform prior to engaging in events such as long distance running, skiing, mountain biking, martial arts, and so on.

So how is your flexibility?

Jon Torerk, CSCS