To keep the body supple and flexible, different stretching techniques are used to increase muscle length. There are several different stretching techniques including ballistic stretching, PNF stretching and passive stretching. Which one is right for a specific person depends on the situation as they all have different advantages and disadvantages. Generally a passive stretch is the least effective of the different stretching techniques, although it is also the safest. PNF stretches are often considered to be the most effective type of stretch but also involve an increased risk of injury.
Passive stretching is probably the most common type of stretching technique. During a passive stretch the stretcher will get into the stretching position and then hold this for a certain amount of time. Sometimes this is also referred to as static stretching although these exercises have slightly different meanings. With a static stretch the person brings his or her muscle to the point of stretch manually while a passive stretch usually involves another person.
Ballistic stretching is a technique that should usually be avoided. During a passive stretch a position is held for a period of time but a ballistic stretch involves “bouncing” to try and increase the range of motion. This can often cause injury and hence is not advisable without professional supervision. The problem with ballistic stretching is that muscles have an injury prevention system that forces them to actually become tighter when in danger. This reaction is often triggered when someone uses ballistic stretching and hence may be counterproductive as well as dangerous.
PNF stretching can be an effective way of increasing muscle length. PNF stands for proprioceptive neuromuscle facilitation and involves stretching the muscle and then contracting it before stretching again. This allows for far greater flexibility gains in a shorter period of time. Sometimes PNF stretching also involves swinging of the limb in a combination of passive, ballistic and PNF stretching although this is an advanced form of stretching exercise and should generally only be performed by athletes or those under the supervision of a trainer.
The reason that PNF stretching is so effective is that after contraction a muscle is especially vulnerable to being stretched. Using this brief period of time the stretcher can train the muscle to become more flexible. When stretching a muscle using PNF stretching techniques, the person stretching should be careful to avoid over-stretching. If any pain is felt then the stretch should be stopped in a slow and controlled manner. Repeated over-stretching can eventually lead to serious injury and hence should be avoided with any of the stretching techniques.