A stretch is a stretch, right? Well, not really. Stretching and the different ways to stretch are topics of controversy among runners.
For the past 25 years, so-called static or gradual stretching has been considered the right way to stretch. This is a slow, gradual stretch that you hold for 15 to 30 seconds. You can choose from dozens of static stretches, for almost every major muscle group; some of the stretches are almost instinctive, like the arms-reaching-for-the-sky stretch that many of us do when we first wake up in the morning.
But recently, the stretching arena has become crowded with different and new forms of flexibility training:
- Ballistic stretching, which consists of those bouncing exercises that you used to do in your junior school PE class, seems to be making a comeback.
- A new form of stretching called active isolated (AI) has gained popularity in recent years, especially among athletes. Active isolated stretching involves brief contractions of the agonist muscle to help stretch the opposite, or antagonist, muscle (the quadriceps versus the hamstrings, say), sometimes by using a rope or chord to help.
- Other forms of stretching require the assistance of a trained “stretcher” (as in someone to stretch you, the “stretchee”). Stretching machines are now available on the market, too.
Some stretching techniques are new, and some are very old. Yoga, for example, is an ancient form of flexibility and relaxation exercise that has gained new converts among sore runners. Taking a yoga class is a wonderful complement to a running program.