To activate or not to activate, that is the question.
How come some stretches get our heart rates up, while others cool us down? Why do our muscles have to tense in certain stretches, and relax in others?
If these are things you’ve wondered, you’ve come to the right newsletter. Stretching is a big umbrella term we use for many different types of movements that get our muscles lengthened and loosened. The static stretches we do fall primarily into two categories: isometric and passive.
Isometric stretches are movements that increase flexibility through a combination of stretch and strength. In an isometric stretch, you are tensing a stretched muscle against resistance. This resistance you will be pushing against may be provided through a wall or the floor, or with the help of a partner.
An example of using a wall for isometric stretching is the commonly known “push-the-wall” calf stretch. In this move, your palms are resting against you pushing your weight forwards while standing in a short lunge. Another example of an isometric stretch, this time with the help of a partner, is when you lay on your back and your partner lifts one of your straightened legs. You try to push your leg back down, while your partner keeps it upright.
Both these movements have two components which make them isometric, regardless of whether a surface or a buddy is providing the resistance: the muscles being stretched are also active.
These movements get our blood pumping and our bodies warm, so they’re ideal for the first half of a stretching class or as a warm-up for a workout and are usually only held for 15-20 seconds.
So what about passive stretches? Unlike Active stretches, these movements do not require activation of the stretched muscles. In fact, these stretches work best when we breathe deeply and allow ourselves to fully melt into the posture. Passive stretches are perfect as a cool-down, or in the latter half of our movement routines after our muscles have already been nicely warmed.
An example of a passive stretch is a forward fold. Muscle groups, such as our core, will still be activated to maintain a safe spine position, but the muscle groups we are trying to stretch, our hamstrings, remain fully relaxed. Unlike isometric stretches, passive stretches are typically held for up to 1 minute.
Both of these types of stretches are important for a well-rounded movement routine. Get your stretch sesh started with some isometric movements, and then follow them up with some relaxing passive ones!
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