Do you want to enhance your workouts and activities of daily living? Then improve your flexibility through stretching! To help you understand how to stretch in a safe, effective manner, Len Kravitz, PhD, program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, shares guidelines and strategies for stretching.
1. How long should you hold a stretch for flexibility improvement? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM 2006) recommends holding a stretch from 15 to 30 seconds.
2. What is the optimal number of times to repeat a stretch? According to ACSM (2006), 2–4 repetitions is optimal, as further repetitions do not provide additional benefits.
3. How many days per week should you stretch? Each person differs, but ACSM (2006) suggests 2–3 days per week as a minimum, although 5–7 days per week of some type of stretching routine would be ideal for most persons.
4. What is the best flexibility method? In a review of 27 peer-reviewed studies on range-of-motion (ROM) techniques, Thacker et al. (2004) noted that all methods have been shown to be very effective in improving ROM, with no clear best method.
Several studies show proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) to be superior to static and dynamic, whereas other studies show several stretching methods to be equally effective (Haff 2006). Sharman, Cresswell and Riek (2006) contend that since PNF stretching improves passive and active ROM, it may provide additional functional benefits. (Consult with a certified personal trainer for information on different types of stretching.)
5. Will using heat packs before stretching enhance ROM? Knight and colleagues (2001) compared static stretching of the plantar-flexor muscles preceded by no warm-up, active exercise, hot packs (superficial heat before stretching) and ultrasound (deep heat before stretching) in 97 subjects (59 women, 38 men) who had limited dorsiflexion ROM. All experimental groups increased active and passive ROM, but the deep-heat intervention was the most effective. This study validates the efficacy of deep heat, which is often used by athletic trainers and physical therapists in their postrehabilitation efforts to help clients return to full activities.