Flexibility exercises can aid in improving and maintaining range of motion in a joint or a series of joints. They should be performed in a slow, controlled manner, with a gradual progression made to greater ranges of motion. There are 3 main types of stretching techniques: static, dynamic, and PNF.
The muscle is stretched to a point of mild discomfort and then held at that position for an extended period of time (usually 15-30s).
The characteristics of static flexibility exercise are as follows:
- Low injury risk
- Effective, with little time and assistance required
- Most commonly recommended method
Momentum created by repetitive bouncing movements produces a muscle stretch. However, dynamic flexibility exercises can cause muscle soreness or injury.
Stretching exercises should be performed a minimum of 2-3 days per week. For each stretch, 2-4 repetitions should be performed: 15-30 seconds of static stretching, as well as a 6-second contraction followed by 10-30 seconds of assisted stretching for PNF. These exercises can be effectively included in the warm-up and/or cool-down periods that precede and follow the endurance training exercise programs. A warm-up period should precede stretching exercises in order to elevate muscle temperature.
A systematic review examined the effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance during preexercise routines. The authors found that stretch durations of less than 30 seconds (pooled estimate, -1.1% ± 1.8%) and 30-45 seconds (pooled estimate, -4.2% ± 2.7%) did not result in a meaningful reduction in muscular performance following these preexercise routines. However, they did find a moderate detrimental effect (61%) on peak performance with stretch durations of more than 60 seconds. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates are techniques that can also be used to improve joint flexibility.