If you ask the layperson what a well-rounded exercise regimen consists of many may respond with a combination of aerobic, anaerobic and flexibility training. Though many people understand they need to stretch, they may not know why they need to stretch.
As previously mentioned, the three main types of exercise are aerobic exercise, anaerobic exercise, and stretching (1). Aerobic exercise, arguably the most popular form of exercise, is a sustained low to moderate form of exercise, which lasts for at least 15 minutes (1). This form of exercise is commonly associated with cardiovascular health. Likewise anaerobic exercise, where one performs short bursts of intense exercise, is known to improve cardiovascular health, along with building muscle mass (1). The final form of exercise, flexibility, is mainly seen to be a secondary form of exercise and be perceived as less important than other forms. However this assumption may not be the case as improving ones flexibility can also improve one’s health, and fitness (3). This post will highlight the importance of including stretching into an exercise regime, regardless of fitness level, by examining the four main types of stretching and discussing the benefits they can provide.
The four types of stretching commonly practiced are: static, dynamic, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and ballistic (3). Static stretching comprise of staying in a stretched position between 30 seconds to a minute, while dynamic stretching involves stretching through constant movement (4). PNF Stretching involves the contraction, and stretching of muscles to help improve flexibility in a specific area, and ballistic stretching consists of a constant bouncing motion to improve the range of a stretch (4). A prolonged period (about 6-10 months) of either PNF, ballistic, or static stretching can improve muscle strength in the area stretched, as well as improve the range of motion in said area immediately after stretching (3). This in turn can improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness by increasing the amount of work a muscle, ligament, or tendon can do; however it must be noted that muscle strength can decrease immediately after a stretching period (3).
A perfect example of how stretching can improve fitness is the increase in pain tolerance in an area stretched (3). During and after stretching, neural sensitivity is decreased; this has been proven by testing the Hoffman reflex, a reflex test which measures the spinal reflex processing by tapping the ring or middle finger, before, during and after stretching with a decrease in response of the reflex (3). A decrease in neural sensitivity can allow for a higher pain tolerance, which in turn can allow for one to exercise harder as the wall, when hit, will become more tolerable. Along with an increase of neurological flexibility (higher pain tolerance) stretching also allows for a greater range of motion in the area stretched; which in turn leads to an improvement of motion for any athlete who stretches (3). This improvement could then allow for a smoother exercise, with the athlete feeling less restriction in their motions.
The most important factor of stretching is the affect it can have on beginner athletes. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research states that people with low flexibility who stretch find an increase in their sympathetic nervous system, which in turns raises their heart rate (2). This increase in heart rate can act like an aerobic or anaerobic exercise and help improve the cardiovascular health of anyone who has issues exercising due to obesity.
Stretching over a prolonged period of time can not only improve one’s muscle strength and range of motion, but also raises one’s pain tolerance and provide a mild cardiovascular activity. This provides evidence that including stretching into an exercise regime is not only beneficial to one’s health, but also to his or her fitness levels.
- European Food Information Council. (July 2008). Types of exercise. Retrieved on July 2nd 2015. www.eufic.org
- Farinalli, P. T., Brandão, C., Soares, P. P., Duarle, A. F., (2011) Acute effects of stretching exercise on the heart rate variability in subjects with low flexibility levels. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 25(6), 1579-1585.
- University of Bath Personal Homepage. (June 2015). Types of Stretching. Retrieved on July 24th 2015. http://people.bath.ac.uk
- Weerapong, P., Hume, P. A., and Kolt. G. S. (2004) Stretching: mechanisms and benefits for sport performance and injury prevention. Physical Therapy Review. 9,189-206.