Adequate total-body flexibility is a critical yet often overlooked factor in the development of any athlete. Most teams do stretch during their warm up for games and practices, but not much thought is usually given to how well it is done.
So how can you make stretching more effective?
Easy, by following the 30% Rule.
Simply put, the 30% Rule states that you should only apply 30% of the maximum tension on a muscle while stretching it.
So if 0% is no stretch at all, and 100% is ‘tear the muscle from the bone’ level, then 30% would be pretty low on the spectrum.
Why so little tension?
Because at higher intensities muscle fibers will instinctively tighten up to protect themselves from being ripped in half. They are equipped with little tension detectors inside of them, called muscle spindles, that send signals to your nervous system to contract the muscle when too much tension is applied. It overrides your command to lengthen and fights you the entire time.
What will lengthen at higher intensity stretches are tendons and ligaments, two connective tissues that do not need to be lengthened and are not equipped with muscle spindles.
Which brings us back to the 30% Rule.
By applying a lower level tension for longer periods of time, a 30% stretch will not activate muscle spindles and provides a true stretch to the muscles themselves. And if you hold the stretch for about a minute, progressively increasing tension just a little bit every 10-15 seconds or so will allow you to bypass the tension detecting spindles and gain a slightly better range of motion every time.
It should also be noted that this type of flexibility training is best done as a relaxation technique at the end of a workout, practice or even game. Holding a long, low-intensity stretch before a high intensity event is probably not the best way to perform at peak capacity.
There is no reason anyone who needs to be more flexible in a particular area cannot improve almost overnight. Done correctly and on a near daily basis, a proper stretching routine can dramatically improve your flexibility in only a few short weeks.