Functional Health is about using your body’s design to your advantage, and stretching should be no exception. There’s nothing wrong with the tried and true method of holding a muscle in a stretched position for a sustained period of time (generally 30 seconds). But one way to get a more effective stretch is by doing something called a “Contract-Relax Stretch.”
With this method, you actively contract the muscle (isometrically) for 5-6 seconds immediately prior to stretching it. Releasing the contraction actually induces a relaxation response in the muscle which in turn makes it more amenable to being stretched. It’s a natural phenomenon that you can use to enhance your stretch.
I’ll use a hamstring stretch to illustrate… lie on the floor face up next to a doorway, with one leg extended forward
through the doorway while the other leg (to be stretched) is propped up against the door frame or wall such that your heel and/or calf are in contact with it, and your butt is as close to the frame as comfortably able. Now try to push your heel against the wall as if you were trying to push the leg down next to the other one (the leg won’t actually move anywhere). Hold that contraction for about 5 seconds, and then as you let it go, force the leg to go a little more vertical by scooting your butt even closer to the wall, keeping the knee as straight as possible. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of your thigh). Then repeat the sequence: contract, let go, stretch. You’ll notice that you’re able to stretch it a little easier and a little further after each brief contraction. (Do not, however, stretch past the point of any pain!)
TIP: Isometrically contract a muscle for 5-6 seconds immediately prior to stretching it to get the most effective stretch.