A friend of mine sent me this message: “…I’m getting a good understanding of the anatomy of the muscles, but not very good information about the best way to stretch. It’s my understanding that it has a lot to do with controlling the stretch itself, but some say static is best, others say active stretching with weights is better. Along with how long and frequent .”
This is a pretty loaded question and it’s a very common confusion based on the information that’s available.
Short answer is; there is no “best way to stretch”. You have to pick and choose based on what your goals are, and what issues you’re having, and what your current level is. There will be an ideal way for you to stretch for your specific goals, but there is no overarching “best way to stretch”. (if you need help with figuring our the best program for your goals check out my one on one packages)
Before you can understand “the best way to stretch”, “how long you should hold a stretch”, “how often you should stretch”, first we need to make sure we’re on the same page of what we consider “stretching”.
There is a lot of information out there that contradicts one another about stretching. Some say that you shouldn’t stretch before a workout. Some say that you should only do active flexibility training and you shouldn’t do passive or static stretching. Some say that you should stretch every day while others say not to. I don’t think that there really are contradictions, but rather a lack of understanding and people grouping mobility, stretching, and flexibility training in the same group.
I’m going to do my best to clear up some misunderstandings and go into detail about how those statements can all be true if you understand the details, and how they can all be false if you generalize them too much.
Mobility vs Stretching vs Flexibility
Let’s start with mobility. What is mobility? The key word I use to describe mobility is “movement”. The purpose of mobility is to lubricate the joint before exercising. For example; doing arm circles, or neck circles, or ankle circles (are you starting to see a theme here?) This will let your body essentially send some naturally occurring lubricant to your joints known as synovial fluid. If you don’t do these movements to get them moving with smaller movements before doing an exercise using weights (even if it’s just your own body weight) what do you think is going to happen? Think of the tin man from The Wizard of Oz. Before getting all oiled up, if he were to try to use momentum to force his body to do any kind of big movement there’s a chance he would break something. If all of the tissue is connected and doesn’t have any freedom of movement it’s all going to pull on each other and you will end up with undesirable results.
So when should mobility be used? ALL THE TIME! You should do mobility every day. As soon as you wake up. Any time you have been sitting for a long time. Before every activity, sport, exercise program that you are going to do. If you haven’t seen “the fuzz speech” I highly encourage you to. It will give you a much better understanding of how the tissues are affected by movement. *disclaimer there are cadavers in the video so if you’re squeamish just listen to it, but if you can stomach looking at the video it is so worth it to better understand your body.
Referring back to the beginning “Some say that you should stretch every day while others say not to.” When “they” say that you should “stretch” every day, they are referring to mobility. This type of movement that is sometimes confused with stretching can and should be done every day by every person.
Next let’s get into stretching. What is stretching? This is a much more complex question to answer. The short answer is; stretching is taking your body to its understanding of what your current working range of motion is. (get the ebook FREE for the long answer) There are many different types of stretching that are all used for different objectives. I cover each type individually in the ebook.
Flexibility (short answer) is increasing your range of motion. This is where I believe there is the most misinformation. You can increase your passive range of motion, your static range of motion, your active range of motion, but often people think that flexibility is only one of those options. The truth is, the goal is usually to have a greater active range of motion. The greater your active range of motion is, the greater your capacity for gaining strength. Your active range of motion will never be as good as your passive. That means in order to create opportunity for a greater active range of motion you must first gain in your passive or static range.