Contract Relax/Antagonistic Contraction Stretches for Running
I recently had the good fortune of attending a stretching seminar for runners at Pro Bike + Run, one of Pittsburgh’s local cycling and running stores. The seminar was presented by Ben Jennings, DPT, OCS at NovaCare Rehabilitation.
During the presentation, Ben introduced us to Contract Relax/Antagonistic Contraction (CR/AC) stretches. These stretches use a technique that utilizes isometric contraction (without movement) as well as active contraction of the Antagonistic or opposing muscle group of the muscle to be stretched. These stretches start out like traditional stretches and typically have 3 steps:
- A strap is used to flex the joint to static stretch the muscle for 20-30 seconds.
- The second step is the isometric contraction part where you activate the muscle being stretched while the strap is used to prevent any movement. This step lasts for 6-10 seconds.
- The third step is to contract the opposing muscle group while simultaneously using the strap to extend the stretch. This step lasts 20-30 seconds.
Rest and then repeat for a total of 2-3 times.
An interesting component for me regarding these stretches is the use of the opposing muscle group in the third phase of the stretch. Contracting the opposing muscle group will send a neurological signal to the muscle being stretched to relax, allowing a greater stretch to occur.
Some of the stretches that we performed during the seminar are shown below.
- Prone Quadricep Stretch with Strap (CR/AC): Laying on your stomach, attach a strap around your ankle. Pull on the strap to bend the knee, bringing your heel towards your buttocks as close as possible without pain, you should feel a tightness in the front of your thigh. Hold. While holding the strap tight, contract your quadricep to try to bring your foot back to the ground. Resist this motion with the strap. Hold. Engage your hamstring to move your leg further forward, towards your body. Use the strap to keep your leg in place. Hold. Return your leg to the ground. Repeat.
- Seated Calf Stretch with Strap (CR/AC): Sit on the ground with your knee straight and a strap looped around your forefoot. Gently pull on the strap until a stretch is felt in the calf. Hold. While holding the strap tight, contract your calf muscle to try to move your foot forward. Resist this motion with the strap. Hold. Engage your shin muscle to move your foot further towards your body. Use the strap to keep your foot in place. Hold. Relax and return your foot to its starting position. Repeat.
- Supine Hamstring Stretch with Strap (CR/AC): While lying on your back, place a strap around the one forefoot. Pull your knee toward your chest by pulling on the strap. Straighten the leg to the point of tightness in the back of your thigh. Hold. While holding the strap tight, contract your hamstrings to try to bring your foot back to the ground. Resist this motion with the strap. Hold. Engage your quadricep to move your leg further forward, towards your body. Use the strap to keep your leg in place. Hold. Return your leg to the ground. Repeat.
The stretches listed above can be found in the Fitness Legs, Ankle & Foot, and Knee & Hip categories in our PT-Helper exercise library.