Position A Position B
Last blog discussed one of two different types of static stretching which is the passive type. The second variety is called active. In this method, you position which ever part of the body you’re stretching at its end range of motion and hold it at that location without moving the joint. Hence the term static (being still). The major difference between passive and active is the degree of muscle contraction. In passive stretching the joint is positioned at its end range of motion while having support or resting on some object. Active stretching still has the joint at its end range of motion, but there is no support. The muscles have to provide the support.
In position A, her hands are supporting the hip to help keep it the in the 90 degree location but is not an active part of the stretch. In position B, the quadriceps (front of the thigh) are contracting causing the hamstrings (back of thigh) to lengthen out.
In position B, you’re contracting the quadriceps and neurologically the body is trying to relax the hamstrings. There still is contraction to the hamstrings. Technically this is called an eccentric contraction which is muscle contraction as it lengthens. This is a normal physiological response and happens all the time. The eccentric contraction acts as a braking mechanism to the opposing muscle that is also contracting, but shortening (technically called concentric contraction). In this case it is the quadriceps.
The caution here is that any muscle at its end range of eccentric or concentric contraction has a far greater chance of cramping and even more susceptible when it is fatigued. So, the safest way to go about active static stretching is to slowly approach the end range of motion without fully getting to the end right away. Maintain the position for a few seconds then relax and try again. Repeat as often as you like unless you’re starting out for the first time. In this case, I’d only do several repetitions, holding for a few seconds and then call it a day. If you over did it, you might not realize it until the following day. Just take baby steps when starting out.
So why do we want to do active static stretching? Well, it is a good way to introduce blood flow into the muscle groups and get it ready of activity. It’s also a great way to begin muscular exercise routine when starting out for the first time. It doesn’t take much load to get the muscle active, especially when starting out for the first time or retraining injured muscles.