Regularly stretching is a necessity to be successful in any type of martial art. But do you hold the stretches for 5-10 seconds, or 60 seconds? Which is more beneficial? And, what is the difference?
First and foremost, never stretch cold muscles! If your muscles are cold, you’re going to have to deal with lots of tension, and even possible injury. The rubber band analogy best describes this phenomenon: a stiff, brittle rubber band will easily snap, while a warmer, more flexible one will stretch and come back to its original shape. Warm up the muscles by doing some gentle flowing, or movement drills. If you’re aiming for a smoother, lighter workout then you need to do relaxed stretches, and hold the poses for around 30 to 90 seconds per stretch. This will keep you relaxed and provide good joint mobility.
However, if you want to get right into BJJ, which requires easy mobility and depends on good strength and power, then doing the stretches that you hold for about 5-10 seconds is key.
Everyone has stretch receptors in their muscles. They respond to the stretch of the muscle when they feel a certain amount of tension, then they activate to get the muscle to contract.
If you stretch for a prolonged period of time, several things can happen. For one thing, you can turn that stretch receptor off, meaning it will be too lax and force the ligament to do most of the stabilizing work. Although your ligaments — especially your ACL and knees — are responsible for some of that stability, your muscles are always the main stabilizing elements of your body.
For instance, some football players in the NFL who have blown their ACLs still manage to move vigorously and change direction seamlessly. They are also able to run fast, start and stop. One of the main reason that they maintain such dexterity of movement is because their muscles are so well developed, and their stretch receptors are active and functioning. In these cases, the muscles are actually keeping the knee in position and not allowing it to shift position or dislocate. The key is always to have your muscles activate in time to protect your joints, while putting minimum stress on the joint and not allowing any other joints to hyper extend.
Essentially when performing dynamic stretches, you should expect to hold the pose for approximately five to ten seconds, with five repetitions. The purpose is to prime the muscle, getting your blood flowing, and achieve a general warm-up. This will help you with some of the movement and get those stretch receptors firing, active and ready to go. On the other hand, if you hold the stretch for a long period of time, say, 30 plus seconds, you can actually get that stretch receptor to shut off, and become lax, which doesn’t let the stretch receptor fire in time. Research also suggests that you actually lose strength if you prolong your stretching times.
Of course, the important thing is to do what works for you. A nice warm-up with movement drills for five to ten minutes, along with dynamic stretches are ideal. When stretching hamstrings or hip flexors, it’s recommended to hold the stretch five to ten seconds and then release, slowly working into the stretch to get the end range hold. Do that five times for each direction. After you’ve finished grappling or BJJ, static stretches are great for relaxing the body, and getting the tissue to release and ease up, followed by some deep breathing. This helps to recover the tissue, and prevent it from becoming too tight, allowing the body calm down.