Many "Stretch & Flex" programs are conducted in industry and construction around the country and have been out there in many forms, created by people with all kinds of varied backgrounds, and for many years. Some float around on the internet for free or get passed down from year to year or company to company. Many companies report a resulting reduction in workers compensation claims. Is this because of the science, content, and methodology or is it because of improved employee morale or is it both?
It is fairly well known in the safety profession that high morale among employees leads to fewer injury claims. When a company offers a "Stretch & Flex" program, employees tend to believe their employer cares about their well being. As a result, there is often increased team work, accountability, and responsibility. This type of domino effect alone could cause a reduction in injuries and claims.
Stretching research indicates what should and should not be included in "Stretch & Flex" programs, yet the research has not been applied to improve "Stretch & Flex" programs. The research leads me to conclude that typical "Stretch & Flex" programs that do succeed with injury frequency reduction are succeeding DESPITE the science, most likely due to the powerful intervention of improved morale – a legitimate intervention in and of itself. And, in fact, the science may surprise you because it indicates that most of these programs are actually designed against clinical recommendations.
I will propose in this paper that we must apply information from stretching research to "Stretch & Flex" programs and that doing so will make these programs cutting edge, and will likely generate even better injury prevention results.
Many people believe there is basically one way to stretch. However, there are different methods of stretching and different lengths of holding stretches that serve different purposes.
Static Stretch -- Hold muscles/tendons in a still position for 15–45 seconds (most often 30 seconds). The typical "Stretch & Flex" program uses a static stretching method where muscle/tendon groups are stretched for 15 – 30 second holds before a shift.
Dynamic Stretch -- Large active movements to bring joints to their full range of motion (AROM) which facilitates neuromuscular coordination. This uses the body's natural reflexes to stretch one muscle group while the opposite muscle group is contracting.
PNF Assisted / Contract Relax Stretch -- An alternating ‘contract-relax + hold’ pattern for different muscle groups, with the contraction most often being 2 seconds and the hold most often being 8 seconds. This is often done with a trainer or therapist moving the joints.
Ballistic Stretch -- Repeated bouncing movements at the end of the active range of motion of joints. This triggers the stretch reflex which encourages muscle contraction rather than relaxation and lengthening.
The common beliefs of the benefits of stretching are to: Reduce Injury Risk; Enhance Performance; Prepare for Activity; Accelerate Healing; Reduce pain after exercise (DOMS); and Reduce pain with Joint Stiffness.