“It’s not enough to build muscle and achieve aerobic fitness. You need to think about flexibility, too.”
Stretching improves flexibility. And that is vital to our pre- and post-workout routines because it keeps our muscles flexible, strong, and healthy. We need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints.
So why is this important in CrossFit?
CrossFit requires a great deal of mobility and joint stability.
For example, you want to develop good mobility in your ankles, hips, and shoulders to perform a good snatch, allowing you to balance the bar and execute the maneuver safely, effectively and correctly.
Without stretching, these muscles groups remain short and tight, limiting your range of motion and increasing your chance of soreness and injury.
So, what happens to the muscles when you stretch?
Exercising releases toxins in your body as your muscles are exerted. Stretching helps to remove these toxins from the muscles, break them down in your bloodstream then eventually get eliminated from your body. The key here is getting as many toxins out of the muscle both before and after a workout to prevent soreness.
Stretching can either be active or passive, meaning self-imposed or assisted by an external force. Here are the most common types of stretches.
Static and passive stretching are sometimes used interchangeably, however, Kruz @ MIT Sports Medicine notes an important distinction:
“Static stretching = stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position”
(i.e. self-imposed), whereas
“Passive stretching = a relaxed person who is relaxed (passive) while some external force (either a person or an apparatus) brings the joint through its range of motion”
(ie. help from others)
Notably, static stretches are:
Held in a position somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds to help relax the muscle
The most common form of stretching found in general fitness
Safe and effective for improving overall flexibility
Best after a workout
Dynamic stretching is done by performing sport-specific movements, which:
“Involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both…it consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion”
Kruz reminds us not to confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching, which involves forcing a body part beyond its range of motion through bouncing or jerky movements.
Are controlled, smooth and deliberate
Improves flexibility, functional range of motion and mobility better than static stretching due to motion
Requires more coordination and power
Better for warm-ups because it increases core temperature and prepares the body for more intense activity
Active isolated stretching (AIS)
Also known as active stretching or static-active stretching. This stretch is most commonly used in yoga.
“AIS is an active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles”
Actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching
No use of your body weight, strap, leverage, gravity or stretching device to complete the stretch
You relax the muscle you are trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to “do the work”
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF is more of a technique than a type of stretching. Merriam-Webster’s medical definition describes it as:
“a method of stretching muscles to maximize their flexibility that is often performed with a partner or trainer and that involves a series of contractions and relaxations with enforced stretching during the relaxation phase.”
PNF is an active-assisted stretch, meaning someone else helps you hold the stretch while you rest. The joint is gradually moved into a greater range of motion and held in place for a few seconds, before being repeated 2-3 more times. A wonderful article here breaks down PNF historically as a medical treatment here.
Always warm-up before and while you are stretching. Research has found that more injuries occur in muscles that are not stretched properly. Nolan @ Harvard Med explains:
“When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area…making the tissue more pliable and amenable to change”
Be sure to stop when you feel tired because tired muscles have less elasticity=decreases range of motion
If you are new to stretching on a daily basis, start slow and avoid overextending any part of the bod