The Best Way To Stretch

I’ve experimented with lots of different methods for achieving acute and chronic increases in range of motion (ROM). On balance, the most productive method with the most widespread benefits also happens to be the easiest. So, ‘what is it?’ I here you ask…

An Introduction to Dynamic-Static Stretching

Enter the concept of ‘dynamic-static’ stretching. For the purposes of this article, it’s a series of loaded static stretches interspersed with an eccentric emphasised dynamic mobilisation. Fancy words aside, it’s just an exercise performed with full ROM and a pause in the stretched position. Like anything in life, it makes sense to try to the simple options before moving on to the more complex.

How It Works

Firstly, pick an exercise to target what you deem to be the ‘tight’ muscle group. We’re primarily thinking single joint exercises only here, no big compound movements. For example, if the plantar flexors (gastrocnemius/soleus) are tight, perform a plantar flexion exercise (calf raise). If the shoulder flexors (lats, etc.) are tight, perform a shoulder flexion exercise (pullover). It may seem counterintuitive to perform an exercise that works the tight muscle but remember that it’s the eccentric component we’re interested in in.

Some Caveats

  • Before you start, test the ROM you’ll be attempting to increase. Retest ROM after the exercise. You don’t necessarily have to quantify this, but it will help you better evaluate the effectiveness if you do.
  • Ensure that the exercise is performed with a full ROM – this is a stretching exercise after all!
  • Full ROM must be achieved without ‘cheating’ – movement compensations must be avoided. For example, no arching of the lower back during a pullover.

The Method

Follow the steps below and give it a try:

  • Perform the eccentric portion of the chosen exercise with a slow and controlled tempo – 5 seconds works well for most exercises. Focus on ‘feeling’ the muscle working eccentrically.
  • Consciously contract the antagonist at the bottom of the movement. For example, try to pull your toes towards your shin at the bottom of a calf raise.
  • Hold the stretched position for a predetermined number of seconds (more on this below).
  • Perform the concentric portion of the exercise with a controlled tempo – 3 seconds works well for most. Again, focus on feeling the muscle.
  • Repeat the movement for the designated number of reps. Try to increase the ROM achieved on each repetition, however, do not attempt to force it.

When To Use It

I’ll typically use this technique in either at the start or the end of a session. This timing has big impact on how I prescribe hold durations, reps and weights.

In the warm-up, the goal is to elicit an acute increase in ROM. We typically prescribe:

  • Light to moderate loads (in relative terms)
  • Shorter duration holds (1-5 seconds – however, some individuals respond better to longer holds)
  • Moderate-high reps (8-12 reps)

At the end of the session, the goal is to either work towards chronic increases in ROM and/or increase strength in end ROM. At this point it essentially becomes an EQI (Eccentric Quasi-Isometric) stretching protocol. Here, we use:

  • Moderate loads
  • Longer duration holds (10-45 seconds)
  • Low reps (1-5 reps) but repeated sets (2-5 sets)

How Does It Work?

Well, if you’re interested, this will be a topic for another article! In the meantime, why not give it try yourself and let me know how you get on?

Exercises, Performance, Prehab & Rehab , , , , ,

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