A regular stretching routine is an easy way to prevent injuries, eliminate pain, and improve balance and flexibility. However, it is essential to understand how to stretch properly. In the book Prescriptive Stretching, author Kristian Berg outlines the fundamentals of proper stretching and explains how to use stretching to ease pain and minimize injuries.
About Kristian Berg
Kristian Berg lives in Svartsjo, Sweden. He maintains a clinic in Stockholm where he practices as a doctor of naprapathy, helping to ease the pain of his patients though the manipulation and stretching of connective tissues.
Recently, LoveToKnow was able to speak with Kristian Berg about the benefits of stretching.
Prescriptive Stretching Interview
LoveToKnow (LTK): Why is stretching important?
Kristian Berg (KB): Our natural range of movement has decreased because we are less active and sit for longer hours. Stretching could be one way to increase our range of movement and reduce different kinds of pain.
Depending on your goal, stretching can help you perform certain movements that you haven't been able to do before because it increases your flexibility. But it can also help reduce/remove pain that is caused from inactivity.
LTK: Is stretching just for athletes or people who are very active?
KB: No absolutely not, stretching is for everybody! Inactivity will cause a reduced range of movement which is directly linked to different kinds of pain. Sometimes stretching is even more important if you are inactive.
LTK: How can stretching prevent injuries?
KB: Stretching will help to elongate tight muscles. A tight muscle will affect the way we move and our posture which in itself could cause an injury. But it will also affect how we perform an exercise; a tight muscle will change our range of movement which will strain the joint capsules and put pressure on other muscles.
Some research shows that regular stretching performed in a correct way during at least one year will decrease the risk of injury amongst soccer players.
LTK: If someone is in pain, should they avoid stretching?
KB: It all depends on what kind of pain. If you have a fracture, acute torn ligament/muscle or a dislocated joint, stretching should be avoided.
If the pain is caused by other factors, stretching could definitively help as long as it is performed in a correct way. It is also important to remember that the stretch can be felt in other areas than where the pain is.
LTK: What is the best way to stretch?
KB: You should follow these four rules:
- Stretch slowly
- The stretch should be pain free (good pain, not negative pain)
- Stretch the right muscle
- Do not affect the joint capsule or other muscles
You don't have to warm up, however, it all depends on which activity you are about to perform. If you are very stiff/stale it will probably feel much better to stretch when you are warm than cold.
If you are about to do a training session with very explosive movements, stretching has shown a negative effect. But if it comes to warming up before a normal training session or a long run it has the opposite effect.
LTK: Are all stretching exercises the same?
KB: There are different ways to stretch, for example, a hamstring muscle. In the end it is the stretch that takes the origin as far away from the insertion as possible without affecting other muscles or joints that will be the most effective stretch.
Further, there are also different techniques that can be used. PNF stretching is one of the most effective techniques when it comes to increasing the range of motion. The technique is simple, safe and has three phases:
- Stretch the muscle for 10 seconds
- Contract the muscle for five seconds (which will facilitate muscular inhibition) - this is a very important phase!
- Relax the muscle for five seconds, then try to stretch even further
LTK: Can people rely on stretching exercises for a total fitness routine?
KB: No, but it will help. Stretch exercises will not improve your cardiovascular or muscular fitness (strength). A good fitness routine should entail stretching and some training each day which involves both the heart and the muscles.
LTK: Anything else you'd like to share on the benefits of stretching?
KB: The most important thing is to not "just stretch." To "just stretch" with a bad technique or done haphazardly will not help in the same way as a properly performed stretch that is done on a regular basis. To get the most out of stretching it should be done properly and on a regular basis, i.e. up to 10 times each day depending on the pain and intensity.
Learn More About Stretching
If you'd like to learn more about the proper way to stretch, check out Prescriptive Stretching by Kristian Berg.
LoveToKnow would like to thank Kristian Berg for this interview.