Stretching has a variety of practical approaches. It will always be passive or active, or, in the case of muscle energy techniques, it will involve a resistance component. Furthermore, stretching may also be broken down into categories as being dynamic, ballistic or static. In order to gain the most benefit from the practice of stretching, it is important for the therapist and/or yourself to have a working understanding of the body's stretch reflexes.
Active, passive, dynamic, static, ballistic, preparatory, developmental, maintenance and remedial stretching will be discussed here. I know it seems like a lot and you may have never even known there was so much to stretching, but believe me, it's a major component of great fitness. When your muscles are at their proper resting length, the whole muscle is being utilized and therefore working more efficiently for you. When muscles are taunt and cause a restrictive range of motion, the injuries start to occur.
This is performed solely by the athlete. Reciprocal inhibition is used in the way of the antagonist muscles being stretched by the contraction of synergist and agonist muscles. For example, you are contracting the quads to stretch the hamstrings. The whole body is a pulley system and these actions, to a small degree, are being performed somewhere in your tissues at almost all times of the day.
This is also referred to as relaxed stretching. The athlete is put through the movements by a therapist or workout partner, and there is little or no effort on the athlete's part. Passive stretching can reach beyond the range achievable by actively stretching which is a wonderful thing as it's another reason for all of you to receive some Thai massage from me. :)
This flexibility is the range of motion that is available during active movements. It is also referred to as mobility training and is about rhythmically moving muscles and joints through easy ranges and gradually increasing the range of movement without force. It's part of the warmup to sports, examples being shoulder shrugs and circles or elbow and knee bends.
This is simply stretching and then holding the position, whether actively or passively.
It is dynamic and rhythmic but more aggressive, usually involving bouncing and rebounding momentum into stretch positions. This type of stretching is rarely seen today for these forceful movements activate the stretch reflex and suddenly tighten muscles thus tightening the muscle at the end of it's range. In terms of developing flexibility, this technique is no good and causes microtrauma to the affected muscles.
Stretching that is performed before full activity is enacted. Warm up and gently mobilize before performing these stretches. These stretches are commonly held for 15-30 seconds and not to extreme ranges of motion or to the point of pain. Because competitive athletes are not 100% fit, this can help reduce discomfort and tightness before strenuous activity.
With this stretching, you are relaxing into a stretch that typically lasts from 15-30 seconds. It is performed slowly and you can expect to see gradual improvements to problematic regions over a period of weeks. It decreases tightness and increases normal extensibility. Some yoga poses are a great form of this stretching.
Stretch all major muscle groups but with main emphasis on the main muscles used in particular sports. These stretches are usually held for 15-30 seconds. Maintenance stretching is a routine approach and it keeps the muscles and joints in good working order, also improving recovery from hard training.
This is stretching that is a particularly important skill area for the massage therapist. Muscle fibers and joints are re-educated. Injuries and imbalances are treated. Connective tissues are lengthened, even areas around scar tissue, and the therapist provides techniques to broaden the muscle at the same time for remedial stretching is commonly combined with massage techniques (sports and Thai massage).
So, with that said...find your tight spots and start using these guidelines to create a stretching program for yourself. Position yourself correctly and stretch slowly. Develop or maintain your flexibility every day and within a few weeks you will see some major improvements with your athletic abilities. If you need any ideas for certain stretches, you know who to turn to, this girl, Rainee. :)