A stretch is the process of moving particular body parts into positions to lengthen the muscles and surrounding soft tissue. Stretching is most commonly used to help release tightness or for relief of stiff joints.
In the muscle bellies, there are two types of receptors; the Golgi Tendon organs and the muscle spindles. These two receptors act to initiate movement and to inhibit movement. When the muscle fibres begin to move or stretch, the muscle spindle receptor activates to allow for the start of a movement, and the Golgi tendon organ activates when the muscle fibres are at maximum length to inhibit movement. Changes to the timing of the activation of Golgi tendon organs are what allow an increase in flexibility of the joints.
Let’s discuss the most common types of stretching.
1. Static Stretching
A static stretch is the most common type of stretch which is performed by moving a muscle or group of muscles into a position where there is increased tension or stretch.
A static stretch is very safe and is an effective form of stretching for beginners and sedentary individuals. These stretches allow for the central nervous system to adapt to acute changes within the musculoskeletal system.
For maximum benefit of a static stretch, research suggests that a minimum of 30 second hold is required to allow for the muscles to relax and lengthen further then they previously were. The concept is governed by the timing of activation of the Golgi tendon organs within the musculotendinous junction of the muscle being stretched.
2. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
PNF stretching is an effective way of increasing joint mobility. This is a stretch-contract cycle which involves changes in the central nervous system and within the Golgi tendon organs in the muscle.
It is completed by holding a static stretch for 10 seconds, before completing an active isometric contraction at a submaximal effort for 6 seconds against a partners or other objects resistance. This is then followed by a 30 second static stretch which will be further than the original joints range of motion.
A PNF stretch works by changing the activation of the inhibitory or relax response of the Golgi tendon organs. This cycle can be repeated across multiple joints and muscles to improve total body active flexibility.
3. Foam Rolling
The use of a foam roller has become an integral part of maintaining flexibility and mobility for our joints. Foam rolling is a myofascial release technique that is performed by rolling on a piece of foam or a hardened cylinder with the goal of reducing tightness around a joint.
Tightness can cause restrictions of joint range of motion and local blood flow to the area, by using a manual release technique such as foam rolling it allows the tissue to become softer and improve arterial and venous blood flow.
Foam rolling also allows for a reduction in fascial tightness, which contain specific mechanoreceptors which assist in initiating forceful movements such as during sports. An ideal starting point for using the foam roller would be to use it on the identified tight or sore area for 3 sets of 20-30 seconds.
Try these stretches to improve your hip flexibility
- Start with a gentle 5 minute warm up on a bike or treadmill
- Foam roll 3 x 20 seconds on quads
- Foam roll 3 x 20 seconds on gluteals
- Foam roll 3 x 20 seconds on ilio-tibial band
- PNF hamstring stretch 1 minute
- PNF quad stretch 1 minute
- PNF calf stretch 1 minute
Written by Cameron Hyde