Active Stretching – 2 in 1
by John Harris Fitness
If you want to be mobile, then you should regularly incorporate stretching exercises into your workout. A strong muscle building program without stretching can quickly lead to shortening of individual muscle groups and thus to a reduced range of motion and sometimes even pain. Stretching and muscle building are often understood as 2 fundamentally different principles. But why forgo something when you can have both at the same time? The principle of active stretching is quite simple. Every muscle has an antagonist, when this is tense, the muscle is stretched/relaxed and vice versa. Only in this interaction is movement possible at all. Active stretching makes use of this principle and combines muscle training with stretching.
- A big advantage of active stretching compared to passive stretching is the better blood circulation during the exercise.
- If you only use the force of the muscular opponent to stretch a muscle, then the risk of injury is very low. This method can also be used well for rehabilitation.
- Dynamic stretching can also be carefully started during the warm-up, because it in turn warms up the muscles.
- By actively moving at the maximum of the range of motion, a joint position is not only made possible, but directly integrated into movement sequences. The stretching position thus does not become an unused extreme position, but a position that can be used in movement. The practical effect for your movement sequences is thus increased.
How does active stretching work?
The muscle you want to stretch is placed in a neutral starting position and then lifted to the maximum stretch. At this position, the stretch can be intensified with the hands or other aids, but only as far as the active muscle tension can be maintained during this time. The position is held briefly and then released.
It is important that you train both sides of the body equally and with several (about 10-15) repetitions. Usually you have a better side and a worse side. But don't let the success of your better side encourage you to neglect the bad side. Our body always works best when it is balanced, and the same goes for the stretching program.
When should I do the exercises?
In the fitness club, you can always incorporate the individual exercises in between or as a cool-down program during free training on the equipment. Active stretching also allows you to start at the beginning of your training session. Nevertheless, you should hold back until your muscles are properly warmed up. If you want to get to know the exercises first, then come to one of our stretching courses or get advice from one of our trainers on site.
For advanced users
To intensify the stretching you can try to alternately tense and relax the muscle in the maximum stretching position. This will create a relaxation reflex that will have a positive effect on your stretching results.
The stretch reflex
The stretch reflex is a protective mechanism of your muscles. It helps minimize the risk of injury, but it also hinders your stretching success. When stretching quickly or intensely, the muscle reflexively contracts to prevent a muscle fiber tear. To switch off this protective reflex, you can actively tense the antagonist of the muscle, thus forcing the stretched muscle to relax. For this purpose you can use e.g. a resistance. Another method is to strongly tense the stretched muscle itself for a few seconds and then relax it in order to move on with the help of the relaxation reflex. However, these methods are not suitable for beginners. You should already know what you are doing. Trying to outsmart the stretch reflex will help you get faster results, but it also increases the risk of injury.
Regular stretching should be part of your workout. Especially with increasing age, our range of motion decreases significantly. You can counteract this by integrating stretching into every training session. To find the right intensity for your fitness level, you should consult a trainer.