Stretching is the activity of gradually applying tensile force to to lengthen, strengthen, and lubricate muscles, often performed in anticipation of physical exertion and to increase the range of motion within a joint. Stretching is an especially important accompaniment to activities that emphasize controlled muscular strength and flexibility, such as ballet, acrobatics or martial arts.
There is some controversy over the most effective methods of stretching, and whether some stretches, such as ballistic, or "bouncing", stretches, may actually be harmful.
Stretching in preparation for a physical activity
Before engaging in intense physical activity such as a workout or sporting event, it is helpful to stretch the muscles to be exercised in the following manner:
- Joint rotation , whereby joints are lubricated by circular motions
- A mild warmup sufficient to generate slight perspiration
- Static stretching , whereby muscles are gradually stretched with the body at rest
- Dynamic stretching , whereby muscles are stretched by repeatedly contracting opposing muscles, such as by twisting the torso or by swinging a straightened leg
- Light exercise resembling the activity to follow
Following the main activity, these steps may be reversed to "cool down" the body, helping to prevent and alleviate any cramps and soreness (such as delayed onset muscle soreness) in the exercised muscles.
The most effective stretching targets individual muscles. Most body motions involve a primary muscle (the agonist) assisted by secondary muscles (the synergists), which collectively impose a stretch on the opposing muscle (the antagonist). For example, when bending the leg, the hamstring (agonist) and gastrocnemius (synergist) are contracted, thus stretching the quadriceps (antagonist).
Taking this interrelation of muscle groups into account, a common sequence of stretches is as follows:
- forearm and wrists
- Example warm up stretches
- Brad Appleton's comprehensive "Stretching FAQ"