Give your loosey-goosey routine a makeover with the following essential stretches that help your muscles recover like champs.
A well-balanced training plan has different workouts focused on speed, strength and endurance—stretching is your behind-the-scenes tool to making sure you run faster, stronger and farther. But there is a right way and a wrong way to limber up. And if you’re still using an old-school, touch-your-toes stretching regimen to keep soreness at bay, it’s time to get up to speed.
Back in the day, coaches commonly recommended that runners loosen up before work-outs with static stretches like forward folds and side bends. A bulk of recent research, however, suggests that this sort of stretching can actually impair performance.
The new rules dictate that the best way for athletes to get bendy is to use a foam roller for some light massage. Perform dynamic stretching as a warm-up—and to save the static stretching for after.
Because all of this stretching stuff can be confusing, we’ve created an easy routine you can use every day to reward those tired gams. Follow this plan and your legs will totally return the favor the next time you step out the door.
Sore Versus Injured
Stretching is meant to prevent injury and decrease soreness, but it’s important to know the difference! If a pain nags for more than three days, it may be more serious than tired muscles. Put the stretching and running on hold and consult your doctor. Staying limber is a preventive measure, but not a perfect one—if an injury creeps in, don’t ignore it!
- Before Your Warm-Up: Foam Roll
- Warm-Up: Modified Walking Lunge
- Warm Up: Knee Pull
- After Workout: Hip Bridge
- After Workout: Hamstring Stretch w/Rope
- The difference between warm-ups and stretching
- The Right Way to Stretch Before (and After) a Workout
- More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet:
- The Seven Best Types of Stretching
- 3 Main Types of Stretching
- Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
- What are Static and Dynamic Stretching?
- Static versus Dynamic Stretching: Current Concepts
- How to Perform Dynamic Stretches
- What’s the Difference Between Dynamic and Static Stretching?
- The Difference Between Dynamic and Static Stretching
- Avoid static stretches before workouts.
- Is Dynamic Stretching Better Than Static Stretching?
- What Are The Types Of Stretching?
- Is Dynamic Stretching Better Than Static Stretching…
- Is Dynamic Stretching Safe?
Before Your Warm-Up: Foam Roll
Foam rolling is an effective form of self-massage that can be performed anytime. But when you roll pre-workout, it can increase blood flow and decrease muscle density. Before you run out the door, spend five to 10 minutes on the quads, hamstrings, glutes, inner thighs, calves, IT band and back.
Trigger Point rolled out (lolz!) the GRID X ($50, tptherapy.com) earlier this year. It’s the brand’s firmest foam roller yet, and it definitely does the dirty work. Make it fun and see which of your run buds can roll out both legs without cringing!
(a) Lie on your stomach and place the foam roller under the top of your thigh.
(b) Slowly roll from the top of your hip down to the top of your knee. Be mindful of any pressure points that need addressing. (Hold the foam roller on any hot spots for up to 10 seconds.) Continue rolling all areas of the quad for up to 60 seconds. Move on to other key muscle groups.
Warm-Up: Modified Walking Lunge
Dynamic exercises warm your muscles and improve range of motion, so you’ll feel more relaxed and powerful before the main event. Perform these stretches before putting the pedal to the metal during your workout.
Modified Walking Lunge
(a) Step forward and (b) lower into a lunge position until you feel a stretch in your back leg.
(c) Place your hands on your front ankle and straighten your legs to make an A-frame. You should feel a stretch in the front hamstring.
(d) Return to a lunge position and (e) lower your back knee to the ground.
(f) Place your hands on your front thigh and slowly move the front knee over your shoe as you feel a deep stretch in the back thigh. That’s one rep. Complete four reps total on each side.
Warm Up: Knee Pull
Pull one knee up to the chest level (or as high as comfortable) with both hands. Hold for a count of five. Release knee and lower leg to the floor. That’s one rep. Complete five reps on each side.
After Workout: Hip Bridge
After Workout: Gentle Static Stretching
Post-workout stretching should be gentle, not forced, so your tired legs can properly recover. Rejuvenate the body and mind through slow static stretches that will leave you relaxed and ready to do it all over again tomorrow.
Hip Bridge Stretch
(a) Lie on your back with bent knees and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
(b) As you flatten your back to the floor, contract your abs and slowly lift your hips up until you feel a stretch in the hip flexors, groin and lower abdominals. Hold for up to 10 seconds and then lower. Repeat up to five times.
After Workout: Hamstring Stretch w/Rope
(a) Lying flat on the floor with bent knees, place a rope around the bottom of one foot (a long-sleeved shirt works too).
(b) Keeping both hips on the ground (do not tilt), slowly straighten your leg until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. For a deeper stretch, point your toe toward your head. Hold for up to 30 seconds and then lower your leg to the ground. Repeat three times total and then switch to the other side.
To stay safe and get the most out of your workout you must always include a pre-workout warm-up before you begin and then finish with a cool down to get your body back into gear.
The difference between warm-ups and stretching
During a workout we can all go from zero to hero and push hard but the safe way to train is to bring the body’s temperature up slowly and loosen up the muscles before we get to do anything serious. That’s what warm-ups are designed to do. Stretching, on the other hand, is done in order to improve overall flexibility. Once muscles have worked they are at their most compliant state and they let us stretch further than we normally would gaining more ground while we are at it.
Timing: We start with a warmup and then we finish our training session with a cool-down and some stretching.
Warmups are critical to a better performance and fewer injuries but stretching is somewhat of an optional extra – we can do it, we should do it but not doing it will not cause any issues, most times. It is highly recommended nonetheless.
Important difference: warm-ups should always be dynamic, always use active exercises (e.g., hops, rotations, chest expansions) to get our bodies ready. We need to get the blood flowing, especially during colder seasons. Our bodies benefit from stretches after we have already worked out – our muscles are more susceptible to them allowing us to stretch further and hold the stretches longer.
Most warmups don’t take very long, just two-three minutes, five minutes tops. To benefit us the most a warm-up should work the same muscles we will be engaging during the main workout – they should include lighter exercises or a toned down version of the training ahead.
- If you are a runner, your best warm-up is a light jog.
- If you are doing martial arts training a warm-up should also include a few light kicks and punches.
- If you are doing bodyweight workouts basic body (neck, arms, torso, legs) rotations will get your blood flowing.
- If you are about to lift weights, do a few lifts with very light weights.
Tip: If you are short on time and you are doing a bodyweight workout, you can forgo a specific warm-up and do the first set of the circuit moving at a slower pace, jumping lower and moving slower in general turning the first set into a warm-up.
The temperature of when and where you workout plays a difference. In winter our body keeps most of the blood flow away from our extremities so warming up will take longer. In summer with higher ambient temperatures, the body is already half-warmed up and our muscles are loose. Many Olympic athletes tend to ‘chase the sun’ for that reason training in Australia and California so they spend all year in a summer environment.
Here is a selection of ready warm-ups:
Cool downs are a natural end to any session but it doesn’t have to be stretching at all. It can be anything from yoga to meditation to a jog or a walk. Cool-downs are designed to get us back into normal pace gradually and give us time to recover. Unlike warm-ups they are not absolutely necessary but they do help.
Although cool-downs don’t have to include stretching, it is the smart thing to do. You benefit the most from stretching exercises when you have already exercised for a prolonged period of time – that’s when your muscles are ready for it the most.
Everyone can get flexible if they work at it. Some people have a natural gift for flexibility others have to struggle to gain every little bit but everyone can get there. It takes persistence and regular training and the muscles adapt and respond.
The best time to stretch is post-workout when our muscles are completely relaxed, thoroughly warmed up and capable of giving us the most stretch, easiest. When muscles are really well warmed up they exhibit a high degree of plasticity. That means that not only do they stretch but after stretching and cooling down they maintain an increased range of movement and display greater flexibility.
This is the reason why everyone should stretch: range of movement. Whether you are a boxer or a ballet dancer your sport will necessitate your muscles performing by working through a range of motion. Muscles that are tight and constricted tend to work against each other to perform the move. That means that energy which should be used in the move itself is actually soaked up by fighting against the muscles themselves and the supporting muscle groups. This leeches away power.
To browse our stretching routines collection go to Workouts’ page and select the filter “Stretching”.
The Right Way to Stretch Before (and After) a Workout
The best way to prepare for a bout of exercise, or recover from a workout, is to stretch. Stretching has numerous benefits — it loosens us up, primes our joints and ligaments for action, and will get your heart rate and blood pumping. It can also help you work on your flexibility and mobility, while helping you ward off injury at the same time.
All told, there’s really no reason not to spend five or 10 minutes stretching before you hit the gym. And even after — as we’ve written about previously. In short, a cool-down period can be just as important as a warm-up period.
For the uninitiated, trying to put together a short, succinct, and effective stretching routine can be confusing. But we’re here to help.
Below, you can find a short video that will run you through an example of an effective stretching routine, for both beginning and ending your workouts. These are relatively simple moves and stretches, and shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone to pull off. But adding this simple routine to your workout regimen should pay off in the end, and help keep you injury-free.
Check out the video, and read on to see the details on each individual stretch on the following pages.
To get your blood pumping, few things are more effective and easier to do than some jumping jacks. It may have been a long time since you’ve done some jumping jacks (high school gym class, perhaps?) but give them a shot — the jumping and flailing around is actually more intensive than you might remember. Jumping jacks should help loosen you up, and get your heart rate up.
For the rest of our simple step-by-step guide, continue to page two.
A fairly simple move, twisting and pivoting will get the muscles in your core activated. What you’re basically going to do is plant your feet, and twist your upper body around. This movement should get your abs and obliques warmed-up, and stretch things out a bit. If you want to add a little more difficulty to the mix, you can do it while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell. Just make sure you’re focusing on warming up.
Next up, we’re going to do some hitchhikers. This is a fairly simple move as well, so just get into a hitchhiker stance, and pull your arms back behind your core. You’re essentially going to look and feel like you’re pushing your chest out — like the girl from Titanic at the front of the boat. This will stretch out your chest and shoulders, as well as the muscle groups in your back.
You may not be familiar with egoscue curls, but they can be an invaluable stretch to add to your routine. They’re also called standing elbow curls, and are a pretty simple stretch. Stand with your hands on your head and elbows out, as seen above, and bring your elbows together in front of your face. Again, this is working your arms, chest, back, and shoulders.
It doesn’t get much easier than the knee pull. Just grab your leg — one hand on your knee, on one on your shin — and lift your leg toward your chest. This movement should stretch your quads and glutes, and is perfect if you plan on hitting the squat rack, or doing some deadlifts.
Next, try the pigeon pull. It’s named as such, because you’ll kind of look like a pigeon. But don’t worry — it’s effective as well.
Stand up straight, and bring your leg up toward your waist. You’ll want you knee to go out toward your side, and pick up your ankle with your hands. Then, simply lift your ankle toward your chest. You’ll feel the stretch as you do it through your legs and waist region. Just make sure you don’t fall over.
Perhaps the most simple stretch you can do is the quad pullback. Stand on one leg, grab your foot with one hand, and pull it behind you, so that your foot touches your butt. You’ll want to pull enough that your knee goes behind the leg that you are standing on. You’ll feel this one in your quad.
After the quad pullback, you should be ready to start your workout. The following stretches should be done after you’ve completed your routine.
To start your cool down, running in place is a great way to decrease your heart rate, and slow your body’s systems down. Just make sure you’re doing it in a way that will avoid injury (land on the balls of your feet), and that you’re using your arms.
Next, attempt a hamstring bend. Start off by reaching your hands up toward the ceiling, and then diving down and grabbing your toes. Do your best to keep your legs as straight as you can — which we all know can be difficult, especially for men. This should give you a good, full-body stretch.
Now, drop to the floor for a “catdog.” You may need to watch the video a couple of times to get the movement down, but essentially, you’re going to arch your back like a cat, while on all-fours on the floor, and then stretch your neck out and look at the ceiling. So, inhale, and bring your chin to your chest. Then exhale, and push your head out toward the sky.
Finally, to finish things off, a classic yoga move is in order. The downward dog, to be exact.
Start on all fours, with both your feet and hands flat on the floor, as seen above. Then bend your legs, and cycle your heels back and forth (again, watching the video can help immensely with nailing this down). You’ll want to make sure your butt stays up in the air, pointed toward the ceiling, and that you maintain form. It’s a bit awkward, but once you’re done, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger
More from Health & Fitness Cheat Sheet:
- 5 of the Most Essential Factors for Muscle Growth
- 8 Things That May Be Missing From Your Workout Routine
- 5 Weight Lifting Programs That are Perfect For Beginners
The Seven Best Types of Stretching
Evaluating the various types of stretching can be difficult. Fortunately I’ve got a list to help you identify the seven best types of stretching to incorporate with your massages.
Understanding and knowing the difference between each stretching technique we help you decide which will suit your specific needs.
1. Static Stretching
This stretching technique is executed by extending the targeted muscle group to its maximal point and holding for 30 seconds. Static stretching is best done after your workouts.
2. Dynamic Stretching
This type of stretching requires the use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the exercise or sport to be performed. It is good way to warm up for your sport and has shown to improve performance.
3. Active Stretching
This type of stretching involves the muscle actively. Hold the stretched position with the opposing muscle group. This stretch technique is held for only two seconds at a time and repeatedly for several repetitions.
4. Ballistic Stretching
This type of stretching is typically used for athletic drills and utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group.
5. Myofascial Release
This type of stretch uses a foam roller or similar device to release tension and improves flexibility in the deep tissue and underlying muscle. Back-and-forth movements are performed over an area of 2 to 6 inches for 30 to 60 seconds. Your individual’s pain tolerance will determine the amount of pressure applied to the target area.
6. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
This stretch uses receptors to improve the nerves & muscles response in the body. The flexibility gained can be maintained by doing PNF stretches of minimum one repetition for at least 2 times a week. There are different ways to do PNF: Contract relax, Contract-Hold relax and so on. Usually, PNF is performed with the help of a partner but you can do it on your own with a towel for resistance
7. Functional Stretching
This type of stretching is something relatively new to fitness but has proven to be very successful to improve flexibility in their athletes. Athletes mainly use free weights to train coordination, speed and balance are all highly specific to the movement.
Here’s a quick recap of things to remember:
- Static stretching after your work out.
- Dynamic stretching as warm up.
- Remember don’t hold your breath when stretching.
- Stretching should never be painful.
Stretching is best in conjunction with massage therapy. So call or visit us now to make your massage appointment and we can discuss how to incorporate stretching into your life style.
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3 Main Types of Stretching
We all know, or at least have heard, about the importance of stretching. Whether it is to improve your athletic performance, for general health and wellness, or to relieve pain and tension, stretching can be the answer. The real question is what kind of stretching should we be doing to get the best results. When it comes to stretching, there are three main techniques: static, dynamic, and ballistic stretching.
Static stretching is what typically comes to mind when talking about stretching. It is a form of active or passive stretching in which you hold a position for about 30-60 seconds, allowing the muscles and their connective tissues, fascia, to lengthen. This is the most commonly known style of stretching and has been seen as the status quo for years. This style of stretching may not be the best way to improve performance before physical activity. Using a static stretching program prior to engaging in physical activity may inhibit the muscle’s ability to fire properly. The primary reason for this is a reduction in muscle tension and an increase in length between resting muscle fibers. These two factors alter the length-tension relationship of the muscle, causing a decrease in muscle excitability. This in turn can directly affect the muscle’s ability to optimally function. Think of the tension in a rubber band. When you stretch a rubber band and hold that tension for a long period of time, you cause the rubber band to increase in length but lose the stored energy. The band’s tension is what allows the band to be functional. Our bodies rely on similar forces to propel us forward during a run, or allow us to jump high during a sport like basketball. If we overstretch our muscles, this inhibits elasticity, which inhibits our performance.
Dynamic stretching is a form of active stretching that is performed by engaging the desired muscle’s antagonist through the joint’s range of motion, only holding the stretch for 2-3 seconds. Because the stretch is only held briefly, the muscle is able to increase in length without a reduction in muscle tension or muscle excitability. By preventing the reduction in muscle tension, an individual is able to improve their range of motion without a loss in force production. Dynamic stretching is the style utilized by the therapists at LYMBR. This type of stretching is also referred to as a dynamic warm-up, which athletes use to prepare their muscles for the rigorous demands of their sport.
Ballistic stretching is the most controversial form of stretching. Unlike dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching utilizes muscle activation through quick, jerky movements. This inhibits the body’s stretch reflex and increases the muscle’s range of motion through the force created by the bouncing. The extra external force produced can overload the muscle, increasing the risk for potential injury. Because the high risk of injury does not outweigh the benefits of the stretch, most fitness professionals do not recommend using this style of stretching.
When looking at the three different styles of stretching, we can see that they can all be utilized to increase range of motion. Static stretching is the more well-know style and is commonly used for general stretching, but can inhibit muscle excitability, making it unappealing to people active in fitness and athletics. Dynamic stretching increases range of motion while maintaining muscle tension, making it useful for general stretching, fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Ballistic stretching can increase range of motion quickly, but has a higher risk of injury than other effective techniques. We all know we should stretch – stretching safely and effectively will help you reach your health and wellness goals.
In our next post, we will expand on our proprietary form of dynamic stretching called Progressive Dynamic Stretching.
Written by Rick Charron. Rick is a Stretch Therapist and manager of our Newton, MA studio.
Regardless of which physiotherapist you see or which sport you have played in your lifetime, you are bound to have heard or been told that stretching is good for you.
The truth? It is, BUT… there are different types of stretching and it is important you use the right type of stretching at the right time!
Being aware of the possible risks of each type of stretching could make a difference to your likelihood of injury or even your performance!
The main types of stretching are; Static, Dynamic, Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and Ballistic.
Static Stretching is the type of stretching that we all know well. You tension a muscle until you feel a stretch, then hold for a period of time (usually 20-30 seconds).
- Increases the extensibility of the muscle(s) stretched
- With prolonged repetition can increase muscle length
- It can increase the risk of injury if done before exercise because of an increased risk of instability.
- Has been shown to reduce muscle power by 7-8% and muscular endurance by up to 30% for up to 24 hours.
When is it appropriate? After exercise to release tightened muscles and if you are looking to increase overall flexibility and muscle length.
Dynamic stretching is a stretching technique that we may not all be familiar with. It uses momentum to stretch a muscle for a short period within its range of motion. Below is a video that runs through an example of a dynamic stretch.
- Has shown to improve muscular strength, power, endurance and agility
- Appropriate during a pre-exercise warm up without compromising stability
- Does not provide an overall lengthening of muscles
- Can be hard to perform without demonstration or clear instruction
When is it appropriate? Before exercise and daily during rehabilitation programs if appropriate.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation is simply shortened to PNF. It is a form of stretching with the aim of providing large increases in range of motion in a short time by contracting opposing muscles against a passive stretch, or in other words, pushing against a static stretch.
- Can produce large increases in range of motion and muscle extensibility in a short time
- Facilitates muscle inhibition to allow spasmodic or tight muscles relax
- Has the same effects on muscle power and endurance as static stretching
- Can lead to injury if not performed correctly and safely
When is it appropriate? After exercise to release tightened muscles, to release muscle spasm and as part of exercise programs to increase flexibility and performance. It is, however, not always necessary and you should consult your physiotherapist on how to do these stretches correctly and to determine which stretches are most appropriate for you.
Ballistic Stretching is similar to static stretching, but involves a bouncing at end of range. It is not recommended as it is not shown to have any lasting benefits and there is an increased risk of injury when performing the stretches.
For more examples of stretches, feel free to view some of our other posts by clicking the links below.
Post by Mitchell Sandvoss (B. Physiotherapy)
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Here at RISE Physical Therapy, we often employ strategies of dynamic stretching. We have all been taught the “old school” style of static stretching, i.e. holding stretches for an arbitrary amount of time, often 10-second holds. In recent years, new research has been done to determine if static or dynamic stretching has any true benefit. The results may be surprising.
What are Static and Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a strategy used to improve mobility while moving through a range-of- motion, often in a manner that looks like the activity or sport that is going to be performed. Static stretching is holding a stretch without movement, usually only at the end-range of a muscle.
Static versus Dynamic Stretching: Current Concepts
Time and time again, recent research has shown that static stretching may actually decrease performance! This has been shown in decreased sprint times in runners, decreased height of jumps in basketball players, decreased agility in soccer players, and decreased force-production in both elite women and men athletes. In contrast, dynamic stretching showed positive benefit in speed, power, and agility. More importantly, dynamic stretching has been proven to actually decrease risk of injury in both recreational and elite athletes.
Researchers believe that static stretching has no direct long-term harm; however this form of stretching will temporarily (but significantly) decrease the ability of a muscle to produce force. This decreased muscular strength places an athlete’s joints at risk of injury by decreasing the body’s ability to stabilize and control motion. This can lead to tears and sprains of ligaments and strains of muscles. Obviously, these are unwanted issues. In fact these are the problems that people are trying to avoid by performing stretches.
Dynamic stretching has actually been shown to significantly increase the ability of a muscle to produce force. This has huge implications for athletes, as dynamic stretching can improve muscular performance throughout a muscle’s entire range-of- motion. This effect can protect the body’s joints during activity and actually prevent injuries that would have otherwise occurred following a standard static stretching routine. These are the effects that people are usually looking for when employing a stretching program.
How to Perform Dynamic Stretches
Since dynamic stretching is a little different for most people, it is recommended that individuals seek some training in how to perform dynamic stretches prior to starting a dynamic stretching program. It is particularly beneficial to seek a Licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy who is trained in current concepts of dynamic stretching, like those at RISE Physical Therapy. All of our therapists are either Fellows or certified in Applied Functional Science, the most current form of physical therapy that looks at an individual’s functional needs and can design an individualized dynamic stretching program to directly benefit that person. The needs of a sprinter will drastically differ from the needs of a basketball player, weightlifter, or soccer player, for example.
In order to perform dynamic stretching, a person usually sinks into, and out of, a stretch. They hold the end-range for just a few seconds and then take the joint through more of its range-of- motion when compared to a static stretch. For some examples of how to perform dynamic stretches, take a look at our other blog posts (like Hips Don’t Lie – How to Unlock Tight Hips by Dr. Martin Nguyen).
Hopefully this post has helped you understand some of the potential downfalls of performing static stretching, and opened your eyes to the benefits of dynamic stretching. Stay tuned for more ways to improve your health and performance, and prevent future injuries.
What’s the Difference Between Dynamic and Static Stretching?
There are two main types of stretching: dynamic and static stretching. Each has their own specific role in fitness to benefit you in different ways.
We’ve enlisted experts to tell us more about these benefits, plus when we should use each of these stretches—and when we shouldn’t.
The Difference Between Dynamic and Static Stretching
JJ Coutts, the founder of Outer Strength Fitness, explains that “Dynamic stretching is where the joint and muscles are stretched, through its full range of motion (ROM);” these are active movements that are not held in an end position.
On the other hand, “Static stretching is when you stretch the certain muscle to a point where you feel a pull and you hold that position for a period of time;” usually 15 – 60 seconds.
While dynamic and static stretching both play important roles in fitness, there are optimal times to use either to maximize your performance and recovery.
Aaptiv has both dynamic and static stretching in the Aaptiv app. View them in app now.
“The best time to use dynamic stretching is before exercise,” says Coutts. By including dynamic stretches as part of your warmup, you ease your body from rest into motion. This will properly prepare your muscles for exercise.
“ is a perfect way to warm up the specific muscles and joints before a workout. It increases blood flow and joint mobility,” he adds.
A good tip: Try to mimic your exercises with your dynamic stretches. Let’s say that you are going for a run on the treadmill or even running outdoors—focus on dynamic stretches that target the same muscle groups activated when you run.
For example, walking, light jogging, skipping, side steps, and shuffles are all great ways to warm up for your run. Coutts lists, “leg swings, lying leg curls, dynamic crucifixes, arm circles,” as other examples of dynamic stretches.
On the other hand, “The best time to use static stretching is post-workout,” advises Coutts. Using static stretches as part of your cooldown will “help relieve any muscle tension caused by exercise and provide better blood flow to aid in recovery.”
Static stretches help to elongate and loosen the muscle. This type of stretching will alleviate any tightness that you may have, decreasing the chance of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
It’s a completely free and effective recovery tool. You can do static stretches during non-exercise times, as well. As Coutts says, “It’s a straightforward method can learn…and perform unassisted.” So stretch while you’re watching TV or whenever you have a few moments to spare.
Static stretching really helps to increase flexibility and your range of motion. And no, you don’t need to be a yogi to prioritize flexibility.
In fact, it should be something that everyone should work on, no matter what type of fitness or sport you focus on—it will help you move more freely, which is helpful for any activity. The hamstring stretch, straddle, quad stretch, and head bend, are all examples of static stretches.
Avoid static stretches before workouts.
Skip static stretches before a workout. In fact, recent studies show that pre-exercise static stretching can inhibit maximal muscular performance.
Static stretches work to loosen the muscles, which is great as part of a cool down but not something you want before training, especially if you’re strength training or running.
Doing so indicates to your body that your exercise is complete and that it can start the cool-down process; this is why it can hinder your performance.
Both dynamic and static stretching play a role in fitness, though there are a time and a place for each.
To help maximize their benefits, and your performance, make sure that you stick to dynamic stretches before a workout and static stretches after a workout.
Have you seen the stretching classes we’ve just released? View them in the app today!
Is Dynamic Stretching Better Than Static Stretching?
You have probably heard many opinions on stretching. The type, timing, and goals of stretching are debated by healthcare professionals, often leaving the average person in the dark. What kind of stretching should you do? When are you supposed to do it? Do you actually even need to stretch at all?
People stretch to improve flexibility, improve performance, or prevent injuries, but the claims about stretching can range from humble to exaggerated. How would you know that stretching is worth your time, without performing your own little experiment?
Unfortunately, like most topics in healthcare, these simple questions are hard to answer. The research on stretching goes back decades, and many of the questions above have been thoroughly investigated. Stretching is a staple treatment of physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers. It typically has a place in physical therapy treatments, exercise programs, or sports programs.
Opinions have changed throughout the years, but there is enough evidence to make some firm conclusions. This article will go through the science in regards to dynamic stretching in comparison to traditional static stretching and will help you decide if dynamic stretching is something you should be doing.
What Are The Types Of Stretching?
There are many different types of stretching, each with their own set of guidelines.
- Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching involves the movement of joints through their full range of motion in a slow and controlled manner. There are no extended holds, and they are typically used as a warm-up activity before exercise or a sporting event. Often, the type of movement prescribed is similar to the activity that is about to be performed. Specific recommendations for what movements to perform, how many repetitions to perform, and how long it should all take can vary, but most resources recommend 5-10 minutes of sport-specific movements. Examples of dynamic stretching include exercises like the “high knees” or “butt kicks” that are typically performed before running.
- Static stretching: Static stretching is what everyone thinks of when you picture someone stretching; getting into a funky position and holding it for awhile. This type of stretching typically involves moving the back, arms, or legs into specific positions and holding for an extended period of time. Holds for 15-30 seconds at a time for 3-5 times are commonly prescribed, but timing can vary based on who you ask. Static stretching can be performed actively by using your own muscles to hold the positions, or passively by using some external force like a strap, a wall, or another person. Examples of static stretching include bending down and touching your toes, or standing on the edge of a step and letting your heels drop down.
- PNF stretching: Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching is a fancy name for a simple type of stretching that involves squeezing the muscle being stretched and/or squeezing the muscle on the opposite side. The theory is that the squeezing helps the muscles relax and elongate more. There are many different techniques with even fancier sounding names, but they are all essentially the same process of performing a static stretch, tightening one or more muscles, relaxing, and going further into the stretch.
- Ballistic stretching: Ballistic stretching utilizes bouncing movements to stretch into different positions, but has fallen out of favor. This is similar to dynamic stretching, but is used with more momentum and performed with less control. In the literature, ballistic stretching is often considered a subtype of dynamic stretching, but for the purpose of this article we will leave ballistic stretching out.
Each type of stretching may have their own applications, but are typically used to improve flexibility, reduce a person’s risk of injury, or improve performance. Each one of these is a separate question and requires an in-depth look at the science.
Is Dynamic Stretching Better Than Static Stretching…
…For Improving Flexibility?
Is Dynamic Stretching Even Effective?
The most obvious use of stretching is for improving flexibility, and there is plenty of evidence supporting that it does. Dynamic stretching can improve range of motion (ROM) and flexibility, as typically measured with the classic sit and reach test or various range of motion tests of different joints (1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 24).
Citing multiple studies, one researcher wrote in his analysis that “there is considerable evidence that an acute bout of dynamic stretching can enhance ROM around a joint” (19).
Do We Know Which Is Better?
However, the question of which mode of stretching is better for improving flexibility is a bit more complicated. The research is much more mixed, with some studies suggesting that dynamic is better (1, 2), some saying static is better (16, 18, 20), or some saying they both have similar effects (5, 9, 11, 17, 21).
We don’t know exactly how stretching works, but there may be multiple factors involved. Some include the elastic properties of human tissue (i.e. how stretchy it is), tissue temperature, neurological considerations (the influence of the nervous system), and general stretch tolerance.
Dynamic stretching may help by increasing the temperature of the muscles as well as improving general stretch tolerance, whereas slower static stretching may help improve the elasticity of the muscles over time.
If your goal is to improve your flexibility and nothing else, dynamic stretching or static stretching are both reasonable ways to do it. Since there is not one clear winner in the research, try both and do whatever feels better for you.
However, if your particular sport or activity requires significant flexibility or the ability to maintain certain positions, such as in gymnastics or dance, static stretching may have the edge due to the need for increased tissue elasticity.
…For Reducing Risk Of Injury?
Another proposed benefit of stretching before or after exercise, or as part of a regular routine, is the prevention of injuries. This is a practically universal recommendation from coaches, trainers, and healthcare professionals. But does regular stretching actually make you less likely to get injured? And more specifically, is there any difference between dynamic and static stretching in regards to injury risk?
Does General Stretching Help?
As researcher Erik Witvrouw puts it, stretching and injury prevention have “an obscure relationship” (26). Although it seems plausible that general stretching would be able to reduce a person’s risk of injury, the research has illuminated a less than clear link between the two.
Many systematic reviews, meta-analyses, and informal literature reviews of many studies have not found strong evidence showing that people who stretch are less likely to be injured (3, 13, 14, 23, 25). However, two reviews, (14, 25), found there is some preliminary evidence that stretching may reduce muscle strain injuries.
Is There Any Evidence For Dynamic Stretching?
There aren’t many studies looking at dynamic stretching specifically for its role in injury prevention. One review (3) noted that of the 12 studies they found for their review, none of them included dynamic stretching. In another study from 2018 investigating stretching, the authors write, “no detailed studies have examined the effects of dynamic stretching on injury risk” (6).
One study (27) looked at injury rates for soccer teams; both groups performed a dynamic stretching warm-up, but one group also performed some static stretching. They found that there were no differences between groups, suggesting that static stretching did not add anything to the equation.
Unfortunately, they did not use a control group that did not use dynamic stretching at all, so we cannot draw any conclusions on dynamic stretching itself.
The science suggests that general stretching probably does not reduce your risk of injury during exercise or sports in any appreciable way, but it may have a small effect on reducing the rate of muscle strains. There is not enough research specifically on dynamic stretching to know if it can help either.
Right now, we have no reason to believe that stretching of any kind prevents injuries, but this may change if stronger research comes out.
…For Improving Performance?
Does Static Stretching Improve Performance?
The inclusion of dynamic stretching in warm-up routines before physical activity, exercise, or sporting events has recently increased in popularity. It is well established that static stretching can worsen certain aspects of performance, including, speed, strength, and power (12, 22). However, one of those studies (12) showed that the negative effects of static stretching are only seen with stretches greater than 60 seconds.
For stretching lasting less than 45 seconds, performance decreases are not seen. Nonetheless, static stretching prior to activity has fallen out of favor. Many sought new exercises or techniques to fill the gap. An explosion of research looking at the effects of dynamic stretching on performance came out.
How About Dynamic Stretching?
Unfortunately, the relationship between dynamic stretching and performance is less than clear but a few broad trends have emerged from robust reviews and trials. Research has shown that dynamic stretching is generally not associated with performance decreases, and may improve performance by a little bit.
A systematic review of dynamic stretching from 2015 reported “an examination of the data revealed that the weighted mean performance enhancement associated with DS was 1.3%…thus, although there are occasions in which moderate or large improvements in performance are reported, overall, no robust evidence exists for substantial performance enhancements after DS” (3).
However, a later review of 84 studies showed that despite many studies that showed neutral or negative effects of dynamic stretching on performance, the majority showed small improvements. “There is a strong body of evidence supporting the positive or neutral effects of dynamic stretching on subsequent muscular performance” (19).
A quick literature search will reveal that one can find trials of varying quality that show all of the possible outcomes: dynamic stretching can improve performance, have no effect, or worsen it. (1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 20, 28).
The literature on dynamic stretching and performance is deep, varied, and confusing for the average person as well as any healthcare professional. The broad trend is dynamic stretching may improve performance by a small amount that is of debatable importance, or it has no effect.
Static stretching has been clearly shown to worsen performance by small amounts. If you are an athlete, dynamic stretching should be performed instead of static stretching as a warm-up activity. If you are just an average gym-goer or a recreational athlete, the effects of dynamic stretching are probably too small to notice or don’t exist at all.
Is Dynamic Stretching Safe?
There were no studies that I came across that specifically assessed the safety of dynamic stretching. For most people, in the absence of any existing injuries or conditions, dynamic stretching can be a safe activity, as long as the person stretching is monitoring what he or she is doing, and is moving in a careful and controlled manner.
For those with injuries or pain, one should consult a physician, physical therapist, or another qualified healthcare professional for advice if there are any questions or concerns. Speaking anecdotally as a physical therapist, most people can be instructed on how to stretch properly without any issue, and the easiest way to ensure that dynamic stretching is a safe activity is to start slow, move to the point of slight discomfort, and avoid movements or stretches that cause pain.
Like many topics in health care, simple questions don’t have simple answers. The literature in regards to stretching, and more specifically dynamic stretching versus static stretching, is dense, complicated and difficult to comb through. Some broad trends do emerge, however.
Both dynamic and static stretching can be effective ways to improve flexibility and maintain range of motion. There is no strong evidence to suggest static stretching can prevent injuries, and there is not enough research on dynamic stretching to draw any conclusions. Fairly robust evidence shows that static stretching can decrease performance by small amounts, and dynamic stretching may improve performance by small amounts or have no effect.
From the evidence, it is reasonable to conclude that dynamic stretching can be useful for flexibility training, as well as a warm-up before an activity or sport. The importance of stretching may be overhyped, but the evidence shows clear, albeit small beneficial effects.
It is reasonable to include dynamic stretching movements in your exercise routine for general health, but do not expect them to have a huge effect on your risk of injury or performance.
- Dynamic stretching is probably equally effective as static stretching for increasing flexibility.
- There is not enough research to know if dynamic stretching prevents injury, but static stretching is not likely to do it either.
- Pre-activity dynamic stretching may improve performance by small amounts or not at all.
- Dynamic stretching is a safe activity that anyone can include in their exercise program if they choose.
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