Active isolated stretching, PNF stretching, contract-relax stretching, facilitated stretching, ballistic stretching, stretching to increase flexibility, stretching to increase power, stretching for relaxation … there are so many “rules” and guidelines when it comes to stretching that it creates a lot of confusion as to when and how to stretch.

Stretching is an important part of your fitness regime but, like exercise, diet and cardio, you must first set a goal as to why you want to stretch. What do you want your stretching to enhance?

We use to recommend that all people stretch prior to exercise and the safest most common practice was static stretching.

Static stretching is your basic hold in a stretch position without movement. The reason for this was to get the muscles ready and warmed up to start moving.

We have since learned that static stretching prior to physical activity actually increases the likelihood of muscle tears and strains by putting the muscle in a pre-stretched position.

The new rules are as follows:

Pre-weights workouts need a light cardio warmup for eight to 10 minutes.

Post-weights workouts need a long, isolated stretch for all muscle groups. This is when you want to do static stretching. Hold each stretch for 1+ minute to increase flexibility.

Pre-fitness class needs more of an active, but not ballistic, stretch. This is when you are stretching the muscle group while in a controlled movement. For example, standing in a straddle and lunging side to side.

Cardio activity on your own such as running, elliptical, stair climber, cycling, etc, then you do a warm up, walk or light jog for a few minutes prior to increasing the intensity.

If you have a tight muscle group that is causing you a bit of discomfort, then feel free to take a minute after your warmup to stretch it out a little bit but, again, try a more active stretch to keep the blood flowing. You want to do a deeper isolated stretch post cardio.

When you are wanting to increase power for sport specific moves such as in basketball, volleyball or gymnastics, then you would incorporate ballistic type movements in your program. These need to be done when you are fully warmed up and in a controlled yet intense manner. This is saved for those who are aware of where their body is in space.

If you are stretching for relaxation, then practise a contract-relax stretch program in conjunction with a yoga style workout.

Start with the yoga practice first in order to fully warm up and get the blood flowing through the muscles then, at the end of the workout, do your contract-relax stretching.

For this type, you want to start at either the toes or the face and work your way through the body. Be sure to use your breath as you release the tension to fully feel the relaxation benefits.

When you are stretching to increase flexibility, a stretching program can be a lot of fun and quite a good workout if you do it with a partner. Be sure to do your homework and make sure you and your partner know how to partner stretch properly to not cause injury to one another.

Take your time with this, don’t be competitive and try to relax in the poses as much as possible.

It is all about preparing your body and your mind for the activity you are about to do. Listen to your body and find the stretching program that best works for you.

Remember, a tight muscle group is a weak muscle group, so get stretching along with strengthening.

If you are having joint or muscle problems find a good physiotherapist to program a proper stretch program for your limitations.

This column is provided by Peak Fitness. Mrs. Lee Randell is an ACE certified personal trainer. Contact information and past articles are available at www.pkfitness.yk.ca/Clients. Anyone who wants to begin an exercise program should consult their physician first.

This column is provided by Mrs. Lee Randell, independent fitness consultant, who is an ACE certified advanced health and fitness specialist and personal trainer. You can reach her at www.mrsleerandell.com.