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Compared to your actual workout, stretching may seem a little less essential. But don't write off your stretching routine so quickly; this activity can improve athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury. Yet, not all stretches are created equal. Certain stretching techniques increase blood flow to your muscles, while other techniques actually restrict blood flow.
Every stretch is either passive or active and static or dynamic. Understanding these terms and techniques can help improve your stretching routine. In active stretching, you relax the muscle you're aiming to stretch while contracting the opposite muscle. In passive stretching, you relax the muscle you are trying to stretch and use a strap, gravity, a partner or your body weight to generate the stretch. In static stretching, you hold a stretch for anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds. In dynamic stretching, you move your targeted muscles and joints through a range of motions 10 to 12 times in a controlled and smooth manner.
Restricting Blood Flow
While some forms of stretching increase blood flow to your muscles, this isn't universally true. Holding a static stretch for more than five seconds can decrease localized blood flow to the muscle, according to the American Council on Exercise. Additionally, passive stretching decreases the rate which oxygen-rich blood flows to your quadriceps and gastrocnemius, one of your calf muscles, according to a study published in вЂњAdvances in Experimental Medicine and BiologyвЂќ in 2010.
Increasing Blood Flow
To increase your blood flow while stretching, perform a dynamic stretching routine. This low-intensity form of stretching uses controlled movements to gradually increase your heart rate. This increases blood flow and body temperature while loosening your muscles and improving your range of motion. When selecting dynamic stretches, choose ones that are sport-specific. Perform these stretches for a total of eight to 12 minutes. Begin gradually and increase the intensity as your muscles and core temperature warm up.
Examples of Dynamic Stretches
During a dynamic stretch, you move a muscle in and out of the stretched position in a controlled and repeated manner. This type of stretching is ideal as a warm-up for any activity. Examples of dynamic stretches include jumping jacks, front lunges, side lunges, arm circles and high knees. To do high knees, move across the floor in a slow, running motion but exaggerate the upward drive of your knees on each step.