- Types of Stretching
- Ballistic Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Passive Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
- To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Tips for Optimizing Flexibility
- Static and Dynamic Stretching – The Importance of Both
- Why is Stretching Important?
- Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
- The Benefits of Stretching
- Stretch Responsibly
- The Benefits of Static Stretching Before and After Exercise
- Relief from Cramping
- Improved Range of Motion
- Decreased Injury Potential
- Decreased Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
- Taking Things Further
- Practical Advice
- How to Create a Program
- Is it better to stretch before or after my workout?
- Is It Better to Stretch Before or After a Workout?
- Do You Need To Stretch Before And After Exercise?
- Try This 5-Minute Dynamic Stretching Routine to Prep for Any Workout
- Stretching: 9 Benefits, Plus Safety Tips and How to Start
- Dynamic Stretching 101
- When to Perform Dynamic Stretching
- How to Perform Dynamic Stretching
- Organizing Your Dynamic Stretching Routine
Types of Stretching
Go to the previous, chapter.
- How to Stretch: (next chapter)
- Flexibility: (previous chapter)
Just as there are different types of flexibility, there are also different types of stretching. Stretches are either dynamic (meaning they involve motion) or static (meaning they involve no motion). Dynamic stretches affect dynamic flexibility and static stretches affect static flexibility (and dynamic flexibility to some degree).
The different types of stretching are:
- ballistic stretching
- dynamic stretching
- active stretching
- passive (or relaxed) stretching
- static stretching
- isometric stretching
- PNF stretching
- Ballistic Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Passive Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
- Dynamic Stretching: (next section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or a limb in an attempt to force it beyond its normal range of motion. This is stretching, or “warming up”, by bouncing into (or out of) a stretched position, using the stretched muscles as a spring which pulls you out of the stretched position. (e.g. bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes.) This type of stretching is not considered useful and can lead to injury. It does not allow your muscles to adjust to, and relax in, the stretched position. It may instead cause them to tighten up by repeatedly activating the stretch reflex (see section The Stretch Reflex).
- Active Stretching: (next section)
- Ballistic Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Dynamic stretching, according to Kurz, “involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both.” Do not confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching! Dynamic stretching consists of controlled leg and arm swings that take you (gently!) to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches involve trying to force a part of the body beyond its range of motion. In dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or “jerky” movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be slow, controlled leg swings, arm swings, or torso twists.
Dynamic stretching improves dynamic flexibility and is quite useful as part of your warm-up for an active or aerobic workout (such as a dance or martial-arts class). See section Warming Up.
According to Kurz, dynamic stretching exercises should be performed in sets of 8-12 repetitions. Be sure to stop when and if you feel tired. Tired muscles have less elasticity which decreases the range of motion used in your movements. Continuing to exercise when you are tired serves only to reset the nervous control of your muscle length at the reduced range of motion used in the exercise (and will cause a loss of flexibility). Once you attain a maximal range of motion for a joint in any direction you should stop doing that movement during that workout. Tired and overworked muscles won’t attain a full range of motion and the muscle’s kinesthetic memory will remember the repeated shorted range of motion, which you will then have to overcome before you can make further progress.
- Passive Stretching: (next section)
- Dynamic Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Active stretching is also referred to as static-active stretching. An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold it there with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles (see section Cooperating Muscle Groups). For example, bringing your leg up high and then holding it there without anything (other than your leg muscles themselves) to keep the leg in that extended position. The tension of the agonists in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched (the antagonists) by reciprocal inhibition (see section Reciprocal Inhibition).
Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles. Active stretches are usually quite difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer than 15 seconds.
Many of the movements (or stretches) found in various forms of yoga are active stretches.
- Static Stretching: (next section)
- Active Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Passive stretching is also referred to as relaxed stretching, and as static-passive stretching. A passive stretch is one where you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other apparatus. For example, bringing your leg up high and then holding it there with your hand. The splits is an example of a passive stretch (in this case the floor is the “apparatus” that you use to maintain your extended position).
Slow, relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles that are healing after an injury. Obviously, you should check with your doctor first to see if it is okay to attempt to stretch the injured muscles (see section Pain and Discomfort).
Relaxed stretching is also very good for “cooling down” after a workout and helps reduce post-workout muscle fatigue, and soreness. See section Cooling Down.
- Isometric Stretching: (next section)
- Passive Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Many people use the term “passive stretching” and “static stretching” interchangeably. However, there are a number of people who make a distinction between the two. According to M. Alter, Static stretching consists of stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and then maintaining or holding that position, whereas Passive stretching consists of a relaxed person who is relaxed (passive) while some external force (either a person or an apparatus) brings the joint through its range of motion.
Notice that the definition of passive stretching given in the previous section encompasses both of the above definitions. Throughout this document, when the term static stretching or passive stretching is used, its intended meaning is the definition of passive stretching as described in the previous section. You should be aware of these alternative meanings, however, when looking at other references on stretching.
- PNF Stretching: (next section)
- Static Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
Isometric stretching is a type of static stretching (meaning it does not use motion) which involves the resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles (see section Types of Muscle Contractions). The use of isometric stretching is one of the fastest ways to develop increased static-passive flexibility and is much more effective than either passive stretching or active stretching alone. Isometric stretches also help to develop strength in the “tensed” muscles (which helps to develop static-active flexibility), and seems to decrease the amount of pain usually associated with stretching.
The most common ways to provide the needed resistance for an isometric stretch are to apply resistance manually to one’s own limbs, to have a partner apply the resistance, or to use an apparatus such as a wall (or the floor) to provide resistance.
An example of manual resistance would be holding onto the ball of your foot to keep it from flexing while you are using the muscles of your calf to try and straighten your instep so that the toes are pointed.
An example of using a partner to provide resistance would be having a partner hold your leg up high (and keep it there) while you attempt to force your leg back down to the ground.
An example of using the wall to provide resistance would be the well known “push-the-wall” calf-stretch where you are actively attempting to move the wall (even though you know you can’t).
Isometric stretching is not recommended for children and adolescents whose bones are still growing. These people are usually already flexible enough that the strong stretches produced by the isometric contraction have a much higher risk of damaging tendons and connective tissue. Kurz strongly recommends preceding any isometric stretch of a muscle with dynamic strength training for the muscle to be stretched. A full session of isometric stretching makes a lot of demands on the muscles being stretched and should not be performed more than once per day for a given group of muscles (ideally, no more than once every 36 hours).
The proper way to perform an isometric stretch is as follows:
- Assume the position of a passive stretch for the desired muscle.
- Next, tense the stretched muscle for 7-15 seconds (resisting against some force that will not move, like the floor or a partner).
- Finally, relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds.
Some people seem to recommend holding the isometric contraction for longer than 15 seconds, but according to SynerStretch (the videotape), research has shown that this is not necessary. So you might as well make your stretching routine less time consuming.
- How Isometric Stretching Works
How Isometric Stretching Works
- Isometric Stretching: (beginning of section)
Recall from our previous discussion (see section How Muscles Contract) that there is no such thing as a partially contracted muscle fiber: when a muscle is contracted, some of the fibers contract and some remain at rest (more fibers are recruited as the load on the muscle increases). Similarly, when a muscle is stretched, some of the fibers are elongated and some remain at rest (see section What Happens When You Stretch). During an isometric contraction, some of the resting fibers are being pulled upon from both ends by the muscles that are contracting. The result is that some of those resting fibers stretch!
Normally, the handful of fibers that stretch during an isometric contraction are not very significant. The true effectiveness of the isometric contraction occurs when a muscle that is already in a stretched position is subjected to an isometric contraction. In this case, some of the muscle fibers are already stretched before the contraction, and, if held long enough, the initial passive stretch overcomes the stretch reflex (see section The Stretch Reflex) and triggers the lengthening reaction (see section The Lengthening Reaction), inhibiting the stretched fibers from contracting. At this point, according to SynerStretch, when you isometrically contracted, some resting fibers would contract and some resting fibers would stretch. Furthermore, many of the fibers already stretching may be prevented from contracting by the inverse myotatic reflex (the lengthening reaction) and would stretch even more. When the isometric contraction is completed, the contracting fibers return to their resting length but the stretched fibers would remember their stretched length and (for a period of time) retain the ability to elongate past their previous limit. This enables the entire muscle to stretch beyonds its initial maximum and results in increased flexibility.
The reason that the stretched fibers develop and retain the ability to stretch beyond their normal limit during an isometric stretch has to do with the muscle spindles (see section Proprioceptors): The signal which tells the muscle to contract voluntarily, also tells the muscle spindle’s (intrafusal) muscle fibers to shorten, increasing sensitivity of the stretch reflex. This mechanism normally maintains the sensitivity of the muscle spindle as the muscle shortens during contraction. This allows the muscle spindles to habituate (become accustomed) to an even further-lengthened position.
- Isometric Stretching: (previous section)
- Types of Stretching: (beginning of chapter)
PNF stretching is currently the fastest and most effective way known to increase static-passive flexibility. PNF is an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. It is not really a type of stretching but is a technique of combining passive stretching (see section Passive Stretching) and isometric stretching (see section Isometric Stretching) in order to achieve maximum static flexibility. Actually, the term PNF stretching is itself a misnomer. PNF was initially developed as a method of rehabilitating stroke victims. PNF refers to any of several post-isometric relaxation stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position, and then is passively stretched again through the resulting increased range of motion. PNF stretching usually employs the use of a partner to provide resistance against the isometric contraction and then later to passively take the joint through its increased range of motion. It may be performed, however, without a partner, although it is usually more effective with a partner’s assistance.
Most PNF stretching techniques employ isometric agonist contraction/relaxation where the stretched muscles are contracted isometrically and then relaxed. Some PNF techniques also employ isometric antagonist contraction where the antagonists of the stretched muscles are contracted. In all cases, it is important to note that the stretched muscle should be rested (and relaxed) for at least 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique. The most common PNF stretching techniques are:
the hold-relax This technique is also called the contract-relax. After assuming an initial passive stretch, the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds, after which the muscle is briefly relaxed for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch which stretches the muscle even further than the initial passive stretch. This final passive stretch is held for 10-15 seconds. The muscle is then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique. the hold-relax-contract This technique is also called the contract-relax-contract, and the contract-relax-antagonist-contract (or CRAC). It involves performing two isometric contractions: first of the agonists, then, of the antagonists. The first part is similar to the hold-relax where, after assuming an initial passive stretch, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. Then the muscle is relaxed while its antagonist immediately performs an isometric contraction that is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique. the hold-relax-swing This technique (and a similar technique called the hold-relax-bounce) actually involves the use of dynamic or ballistic stretches in conjunction with static and isometric stretches. It is very risky, and is successfully used only by the most advanced of athletes and dancers that have managed to achieve a high level of control over their muscle stretch reflex (see section The Stretch Reflex). It is similar to the hold-relax technique except that a dynamic or ballistic stretch is employed in place of the final passive stretch.
Notice that in the hold-relax-contract, there is no final passive stretch. It is replaced by the antagonist-contraction which, via reciprocal inhibition (see section Reciprocal Inhibition), serves to relax and further stretch the muscle that was subjected to the initial passive stretch. Because there is no final passive stretch, this PNF technique is considered one of the safest PNF techniques to perform (it is less likely to result in torn muscle tissue). Some people like to make the technique even more intense by adding the final passive stretch after the second isometric contraction. Although this can result in greater flexibility gains, it also increases the likelihood of injury.
Even more risky are dynamic and ballistic PNF stretching techniques like the hold-relax-swing, and the hold-relax-bounce. If you are not a professional athlete or dancer, you probably have no business attempting either of these techniques (the likelihood of injury is just too great). Even professionals should not attempt these techniques without the guidance of a professional coach or training advisor. These two techniques have the greatest potential for rapid flexibility gains, but only when performed by people who have a sufficiently high level of control of the stretch reflex in the muscles that are being stretched.
Like isometric stretching (see section Isometric Stretching), PNF stretching is also not recommended for children and people whose bones are still growing (for the same reasons. Also like isometric stretching, PNF stretching helps strengthen the muscles that are contracted and therefore is good for increasing active flexibility as well as passive flexibility. Furthermore, as with isometric stretching, PNF stretching is very strenuous and should be performed for a given muscle group no more than once per day (ideally, no more than once per 36 hour period).
The initial recommended procedure for PNF stretching is to perform the desired PNF technique 3-5 times for a given muscle group (resting 20 seconds between each repetition). However, HFLTA cites a 1987 study whose results suggest that performing 3-5 repetitions of a PNF technique for a given muscle group is not necessarily any more effective than performing the technique only once. As a result, in order to decrease the amount of time taken up by your stretching routine (without decreasing its effectiveness), HFLTA recommends performing only one PNF technique per muscle group stretched in a given stretching session.
- How PNF Stretching Works
How PNF Stretching Works
- PNF Stretching: (beginning of section)
Remember that during an isometric stretch, when the muscle performing the isometric contraction is relaxed, it retains its ability to stretch beyond its initial maximum length (see section How Isometric Stretching Works). Well, PNF tries to take immediate advantage of this increased range of motion by immediately subjecting the contracted muscle to a passive stretch.
The isometric contraction of the stretched muscle accomplishes several things:
- As explained previously (see section How Isometric Stretching Works), it helps to train the stretch receptors of the muscle spindle to immediately accommodate a greater muscle length.
- The intense muscle contraction, and the fact that it is maintained for a period of time, serves to fatigue many of the fast-twitch fibers of the contracting muscles (see section Fast and Slow Muscle Fibers). This makes it harder for the fatigued muscle fibers to contract in resistance to a subsequent stretch (see section The Stretch Reflex).
- The tension generated by the contraction activates the golgi tendon organ (see section Proprioceptors), which inhibits contraction of the muscle via the lengthening reaction (see section The Lengthening Reaction). Voluntary contraction during a stretch increases tension on the muscle, activating the golgi tendon organs more than the stretch alone. So, when the voluntary contraction is stopped, the muscle is even more inhibited from contracting against a subsequent stretch.
PNF stretching techniques take advantage of the sudden “vulnerability” of the muscle and its increased range of motion by using the period of time immediately following the isometric contraction to train the stretch receptors to get used to this new, increased, range of muscle length. This is what the final passive (or in some cases, dynamic) stretch accomplishes.
Go to the previous, chapter.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Tips for Optimizing Flexibility
Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it’s important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best.
Yet, despite these long-held beliefs – and perhaps surprisingly – there’s little evidence to support this theory.
Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout. Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.
For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing.
A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.
Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. It ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency.
Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity.
So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Consider the following guidelines:
Stretch Daily: Just as you should try to get a certain amount of exercise in each day – both cardio and strength training – it’s also important to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to daily static stretching. Typical static stretches are held for anywhere between 15 to 60 seconds at a time, with each movement repeated two or more times.
Experts suggest setting time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed.
Stretch During Cool-Downs: Cooling down after an activity helps the body transition from a higher intensity to a resting or near-resting state. While slowed-down exercises (similar to those during dynamic warm-ups) may be included as part of a cool-down, this is also a great time for static stretching.
As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, those who regularly exercise or compete have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses in flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries.
Static and Dynamic Stretching – The Importance of Both
April 26, 2018
There’s a common misconception that stretching is only for runners and professional athletes. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, everyone can benefit from stretching exercises at every age.
Injury reduction, improved flexibility, and increased performance are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of regular post-workout static stretching.
Why is Stretching Important?
Stretching is an activity that most of us skip. Think about it. When was the last time you stretched before and after you exercised? When was the last time you stretched before starting or ending your day? If you have to think about it, chances are you aren’t stretching regularly.
Stretching is an essential component of physical fitness. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), without stretching, your joints may stiffen and you increase your risk of potential injury. Not to mention, we naturally lose our flexibility as we age (as they say “use it or lose it!”).
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
While there are many types of stretching, static stretching and dynamic stretching are the two most common stretching techniques to help you maintain flexibility. Both types of stretching are great and they both prepare your body for activity. Additionally, stretching helps your body recover. The main differences between these two types of stretching are when and how you complete them.
Static Stretching – The most common stretching technique, static stretching requires extending a specific muscle group to its maximum point, just beyond your comfort zone, and holding it. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding the stretch 15 to 30 seconds and repeating the stretch three to five times. When performed correctly, static stretches can improve your flexibility. Static stretching is designed to hold a position for a muscle or joint that is minimally challenging. The focus of static stretching is on relaxing the muscle or joint being stretched, letting it naturally go further on its own.
There are two types of static stretches, active and passive. Active static stretching is when additional force is applied for higher intensity. Passive static stretching is when additional force is applied by an external force, such as a partner, to increase the intensity of the stretch. Regardless of the type of static stretching you complete, it should not hurt.
Dynamic Stretching – Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching requires the use of continuous movement patterns that mimic the sport or exercise being performed. Dynamic stretching is designed to exercise a joint or a muscle through challenging and repetitive motions, moving the targeted muscle further with each repetition. Typically, the purpose of dynamic stretching is to increase flexibility for a given activity or sport. Examples of dynamic stretches are high knee marching, walking lunges, and arm circles.
The Benefits of Stretching
Studies pertaining to the overall benefits of stretching have mixed results. While some studies indicate stretching can help, other studies show that stretching before or after exercise has little benefit. However, most studies show that stretching increases flexibility.
According to the Mayo Clinic, better flexibility may:
● Decrease your risk of injuries
● Improve your performance in sports and other physical activities
● Allow your muscles to work most effectively
● Help your joints move through their full range of motion
Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles.
You may need to approach stretching with caution. If you have a chronic condition or have been recently injured, you may need to adjust your stretching techniques. If you already have a strained muscle, stretching may cause further injury.
It’s important to remember that stretching doesn’t mean you won’t become injured. While stretching helps to warm up your muscles, it won’t prevent an injury caused by overuse. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about the most appropriate way to stretch if you have any health concerns.
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The Benefits of Static Stretching Before and After Exercise
Lately, I have found it extremely common in circles of trainers, coaches, and physical therapists to question and criticize the idea of static stretching. The reasons to avoid it may abound, mostly for activities of speed and power,1,34,33,36 but also on occasion for endurance performance.37
Given the equivocal nature of the evidence coupled with the desire to draw hard lines between ideas, I can sympathize with the sentiment that static stretching should be avoided. However, a quick glance into other sports outside of endurance and into the realms of sports like gymnastics2 and dancing3, shows the utility of static stretching, but in the correct contexts and for appropriate reasons. If it is used with such success in other sports, why is the world of chronic, repetitive athletics excluded from the same benefits? If our primary objective is the creation of well-rounded and resilient movement artists, why should any stone be left unturned?
There must be good reason to include these types of stretches. The most common reasons for including stretching as part of your fitness and performance routine seem to be:
- relief from cramping
- improved range of motion
- decrease in injury potential
- decrease in delayed-onset muscle soreness
The effects of stretching, particularly static stretching, on each one of these outcomes has both support and disapproval.
Relief from Cramping
It’s hard for me to believe, but with all the years of searching into the underlying causes of muscle cramps, we still have no idea4. It is appearing quite unlikely that they are caused by dehydration or electrolyte imbalance (except in extreme cases)5. If you’re not into pickle juice,6 but still want relief from these painful attacks, then stretching is actually a legitimate, albeit banal, antidote.
However, the relationship is fuzzy. It seems that if you haven’t been keeping up with your mobility regularly and expect to prevent cramping in a session by a few stretches, you’re likely to be disappointed.13 But, it appears that keeping your body more mobile in the long-term will decrease your likelihood of cramping during your training sessions.
In a 2014 review on the topic, Pascal Edouard highlights six potentially effective, though not yet completely vetted, strategies for the reduction of exercise-associated muscle cramps:
- train your neuromuscular system (plyometrics, work to correct muscle imbalances, etc.)
- taper before big events
- make sure to include a good warm-up
- include stretching in your warm-up
- move progressively into exercise
- respect recovery (between sets and between competitions)6
On the other hand, stretching does not contribute in the way you may think to cramp prevention. I know I’ve been told (as a master’s student in exercise physiology) that stretching inhibits Golgi tendon organs (GTOs) and thus reduces cramping by preventing an automatic tension in the motor unit.
However, this appears to be false according to a 2014 study by Kevin Miller and John Burne7. They determined that while people who can induce cramps have active GTOs in the development of the cramp, the use of prophylactic static stretching does not appear to have any effect on these reactive anatomical structures. This does not mean that stretching won’t help, but that we have more work to do until we understand them and how to affect them.
Improved Range of Motion
If you are looking to improve your range of motion, stay after an injury or because you want to be able to generally perform better, stretching will certainly help. For example, after working with hundreds of people on their functional movement, I can say with certainty that most endurance athletes, especially males, display poor posterior chain flexibility (hamstrings, glutes, calves, etc.). They tend to score low on the active straight-leg raise in the Functional Movement Screen, a proxy for hamstring, hip, and posterior chain mobility.
Shingo Matsuo and colleagues in Nagoya, Japan found that stretching for either 3 or 5 minutes produced the greatest benefit for those seeking improvement in this specific test8. If you’re not into that duration of discomfort, stretching at a greater intensity for a shorter time, while potentially more dangerous, could produce similar benefit to range of motion according to a 2015 study led by Sandro Freitas of Portugal9.
Digging a little deeper into the details of the study, the team actually found a difference between stretching for duration versus stretching with increased intensity. Increased duration appears to have an effect on decreasing the resistance of muscles to a stretch while increased intensity improves the joint angle better. While that sounds appropriate for increasing range of motion, there’s still the possibility of performance problems.
In a recent review, David Behm and colleagues elucidated that simply putting the static stretching within a warm-up that also includes dynamic activity after the static stretch both increases range of motion and decreases injury potential without subsequent deleterious effect on performance10. One of the studies highlighted in the review showed that beyond a simple “traditional” warm-up of easy cycling before a cycling performance, placing static stretching (with sets of only 6 seconds) between two bouts of easy cycling resulted in an improved performance along with improved range of motion11.
The physiologist in me wants to know why. Intuition would tell us that improved range of motion comes from longer muscles. In the mid-1990s, contrary to what we might have always been led to believe, improved range of motion appeared not to actually change the tissue properties and instead was linked with an improved stretch tolerance. Is it just that we are better at dealing with the pain when we see an increase in range of motion after long-term stretching protocols12?
With a more current understanding in this regard, more sarcomeres (muscle fiber units) in series are indeed added after chronic stretching (yes, the muscle and surrounding tissues do become longer), but in response to a complex interaction of mechanical tension and reaction from the nervous and immune systems13. The pulling and tugging we do on our tissues may build more tissue and probably ends up putting less pressure on those nociceptors (pain receptors).
Decreased Injury Potential
- In a November 2014 review of the extant literature on stretching and injury potential showed that while there is no completely definitive evidence either way, a sport-specific stretch and warm-up protocol was the best for prevention of injuries14.
- In his review, David Behm did determine that stretching within a warm-up that also includes aerobic activity does produce favorable results on injury potential.9 Futhermore, there is still evidence that it can help with long-term injury prevention through the recovery of tissue after the stretch. Essentially, stretched tissue becomes more hydrated after the induced tension, facilitating the inflammation and repair processes15.
Decreased Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
I’ve heard many trainers tell athletes, “Stretch so you won’t be sore,” or when stating that they are already sore, I hear trainers ask athletes in a patronizing tone, “did you stretch?” I’ve fallen victim to it myself, especially with the newly popularized (not new) idea of myofascial release (e.g. foam rolling) that does work16,17.
The idea of stretching to prevent DOMS was originally proposed in the 1960s, but disproven in the 1980s. And continues to be disproven. Neither static stretching or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching appear to help with DOMS.
The authors of the study take it even further and state that the stretching may actually make the pain more severe in some cases21. DOMS is usually attributed to microtears in the muscle architecture22, so this should not really come as any surprise, especially given the revealing work by Schleip over the past few decades indicating that stretching may make “knots” or adhesions in myofascial tissue worse8.
Incidentally, if you are looking for help in dealing with DOMS discomfort, I suggest trying some “unconventional” strategies such as hyperbaric treatment23, branched-chain amino acid supplementation with taurine24 or glucose25, caffeine26, and curcumin27.
Taking Things Further
I find the ideas surrounding fascial science intriguing. Especially that it could be linked to movement dysfunction and generalized pain issues28 through its own contractile abilities29,30. In fact, long-duration (from a practical standpoint though the article will state differently) static stretching of 10 minutes after repetitive cyclic motion (i.e. running, cycling, swimming, etc) may actually prevent the knots that limit and therefore alter our movement patterns31.
Stretching for longer durations in this manner decreases procollagen production. While that may sound like a bad thing, the authors of the study suggest that this downregulation causes collagen fibers to align in a more beneficial pattern, even though the repair may take longer. This is some of the best evidence I’ve yet to uncover as to why we absolutely should be static stretching after our training sessions- and for a long time (5 to 10 minutes per position).
In fact, to see the greatest changes in functional range of motion, fascial stretching of one to two times per week for a period of 6 to 24 months appears to have holistic benefit32. Honestly, the topic of fascia as related to function goes well beyond the scope of this article, so I will leave that alone for now.
While I must concede that the idea of only doing static stretching before exercise or performance is not a great idea33, the context is of critical importance. The questions that you might want to answer in order to come up with your perfect stretching routine are:
- What are you about to perform?
- What are your biggest limiters to for the actions you are about to perform?
- Are you male or female?
- How long do you have to stretch (and how long do you actually stay in a stretch)?
- How long after your stretch do you need to wait before trying to perform?
I’ll attempt to shed light on the answers to each of these in succession.
Static stretching has been shown to have negative consequences when performed before particularly explosive activities34 and may affect performance in these types of movements for up to 24 hours35. Interestingly, while the underlying mechanism still evades us, we know that we have lost the speed at which our motor units fire, but the firing pattern remains intact (so at least the movement doesn’t get worse, only slower)36. As the durations of activity become greater and intensities less, the effect diminishes with quick sprints being affected37, less of an effect on 1-mile uphill performance38, and no effect on 3-km running39. Thus, if you are attempting a max box-jump or 100-m sprint, stick to dynamic work. If you’re getting ready for a marathon, don’t stress about it so much. Indeed, if we include a dynamic sport-specific set of movements before our performance, the negative effects of static stretching diminish40.
With that said, if you are seeking a greater range of motion for your performance in something like practicing your overhead reach in swimming, while static stretching may impair your speed, your movement will benefit greatly in the long term4,41. Especially when combined with aerobic activity both before and after the stretch, both performance and range of motion improve5,42. Otherwise, dynamic stretching should be used before most activities43, along with static stretching and even strengthening at end-range-of-motion (a lightweight straight-leg deadlift, for example)44.
A truism in the exercise science world is that, “men need mobility and women need stability.” While making any kind of hard-and-fast rule is typically unwise, there appears to be some truth in the realm of reactions to stretching.
Women do not tend to display the same negative effects of static stretching as experienced by men, particularly if they are trained distance runners45, though power movements may still be affected46. On top of that, if you’re a trained male runner, dynamic stretching does have a distinct advantage for you in terms of performance47 but not necessarily metabolic cost (your efficiency)48.
Your attention span might actually determine your actual stretch duration. The stretching mantras of the dominant organizations in exercise science (e.g. ACSM, NSCA, NASM) all point to particular durations of stretching being most beneficial, usually between 15 and 30 seconds. Admittedly, I am among those who felt very strongly that this was too much time and that certainly this type of stretching was ill advised. I imagined how “silly” it was to have teams of young people holding stretches for 30 seconds in each position as part of their warm-ups. I was incorrect and coaches’ wisdom prevails.
It turns out that the negative effects of static stretching really are limited to durations of greater than 60 seconds and there is little effect for durations less than that49. Savvas Statilidis and Markus Tilp of Graz University explored whether there was even a difference in 15 or 60 seconds of static stretching on the physical properties of the muscle or on performance of a knee extension, countermovement jump, or squat jumps50. There was no difference. Researchers at Coastal Carolina University didn’t find a difference between 30 and 60 second static stretching on vertical jump performance, even when they specifically targeted muscles used in the movement (hamstrings, gluteals, and quadriceps)51. That’s a bummer for those arguing against static stretching before performance. It also has changed my outlook on how I program for my athletes.
But, there is one variable not to be overlooked. We do need to take a break after stretching. If we do, we can shed many of the potentially negative effects of static stretching by just giving it a little time. If we choose not to, we could experience significant decrements in our ability to perform intense movements because decreased joint stability and neurological functioning52.
According to the review by Evan Peck and colleagues, making sure there is about five minutes between any static stretching and performance should diminish negative impact while still achieving the increased range of motion and injury prevention effects38. That’s for the general recommendation of 15 to 60 second static stretches. For stretches that last longer than that (to be utilized when truly attempting to alter range of motion patterns), it takes about 10 minutes to return to baseline muscle stiffness after a 2 minute stretch, but 20 minutes to return to baseline after a 4 or 8 minute stretch53. In fact, a research team at Chukyo University in Toyota, Japan found that maximal isometric torque returns after 10 minutes following a static stretching bout54.
How to Create a Program
When designing a stretching protocol to gain the most out of your mobility and performance, I propose the following: begin the preparation for every training session with some type of aerobic activity (preferably cycling, swimming, or rowing because running requires too much range of motion and integrity) for three to five minutes. After that, static stretch- yes, static stretch, for 15 to 45 seconds the muscle groups from which your session will require increased range of motion (e.g. lats before swimming, calves before full-range squats) one to three times. Then, perform another short bout of aerobic activity interspersed with drills that match the activity you’re about to do. Then start your session.
After you’ve accomplished the session, static stretch again the muscle groups from which you are seeking to greatly increase range of motion in the long-term. Do this for 5 to 10 minutes in each position. The longer you stay in that stretch, the more effect on your perception of discomfort in that position and the greater the enhancement of your range of motion. Personally, I work on my hip adductors (groin) and hip flexors (including psoas and quads) particularly after running.
As for the purported absolute negative effects of static stretching, I can no longer agree. My opinion has gained nuance. As such for anyone stating they have the absolute answer on a hotly debated topic, I urge caution.
Is it better to stretch before or after my workout?
Stretching- we’ve been told for years that flexibility training is an important part of a well rounded fitness program, yet it’s the thing most of us neglect when exercising. Some people cite a lack of time, but for many it is the fact that they are just simply not sure how best to stretch, or more importantly, when is best to stretch.
In recent years, research has shown that pre-exercise static stretching (holding a stretch in one position without movement- think elementary school PE class) may actually hinder physical performance. While static stretching does have its benefits, such as improved posture and flexibility, the best time to perform this type of stretching is at the conclusion of a workout during the cool-down phase, as it is best to stretch muscles when they are properly warmed, and therefore more pliable. Examples of static stretches include 90 lat stretch, childs pose, leg crossover stretch and overhead triceps stretch.
Research suggests that beginning your workout with a dynamic warm-up is a safer and more effective way to prepare the body for exercise. Dynamic stretching, which involves active range of motion movements that tend to resemble sport or movement-specific actions, lengthens the fascia (the connective tissue around the muscles), increases core body temperature and functionally prepares the body for the activity to come. Examples of exercises you can incorporate in a dynamic warm-up include bird-dog, bear crawl and dirty dog.
Is It Better to Stretch Before or After a Workout?
For some, stretching in addition to a workout seems like the cherry on top of a sundae—a nice touch, but not necessary. Or maybe you think that touching your toes for a few seconds after a treadmill session is plenty. Turns out when (and how) you stretch your muscles can make or break your fitness goals.
Stretching before a workout is crucial for preventing injury as well as improving performance. Especially if you exercise right after waking up or if you’re pretty sedentary during the day, your muscles are going to be tight, says Noam Tamir, certified trainer and founder of TS Fitness. One study showed that stretching 15 minutes before a workout can help you avoid injury.Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2008, Mar.;37(12):0112-1642.
So what kind of moves are we talking about? “It’s best to do a dynamic warm-up before exercise,” Tamir says. As opposed to static stretches, which are held for 30 seconds or more in the same position (think toe touches), this type of stretching involves active movements that mimic your actual workout. For example, runners often perform dynamic stretches like hip circles, walking lunges, and butt kicks to activate the muscle groups used in running. During dynamic stretching, you’re constantly moving, so it provides a cardio warm-up as well, explains Julie Mulcahy, M.P.T., a sports medicine physical therapist.
Not only will you reduce your risk of injury, but research also shows that dynamic stretching can help improve athletic performance. One study found that college wrestlers who completed a dynamic warm-up for four weeks saw improvements in strength, endurance, agility, and anaerboic capacity.Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits. Herman SL, Smith DT. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2008, Sep.;22(4):1533-4287. Other research suggests that dynamic stretching enhances muscle performance and power output compared to static stretching.Acute effects of dynamic stretching, static stretching, and light aerobic activity on muscular performance in women. Curry BS, Chengkalath D, Crouch GJ. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2009, Dec.;23(6):1533-4287.
The Problem With Holding Tight
Because the thought of doing a mini-workout before your actual workout sounds exhausting, many of us instead resort to a few half-hearted toe tugs after exercise. Static stretches like these focus more on relaxing the muscle and promoting flexibility than dynamic stretching, Tamir says, and can be good to add to the end of your gym session.
However, recent research has questioned the benefits of static stretching before a workout, suggesting it may lead to decreased athletic performance. One study found that performing static stretches before doing a barbell squat caused people to feel off-balance and lift less weight, while another showed that soccer players who did static stretches before a 30-meter sprint had slower times than players who didn’t stretch before the sprints.Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men. Gergley JC. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2013, Dec.;27(4):1533-4287. The effect of static stretching on phases of sprint performance in elite soccer players. Sayers AL, Farley RS, Fuller DK. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2009, Feb.;22(5):1533-4287.Finally, a meta-analysis of 104 studies concluded that static stretching had negative effects on strength, power, and explosive performance, and should be avoided altogether.Does pre-exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta-analytical review. Simic L, Sarabon N, Markovic G. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 2012, Feb.;23(2):1600-0838.
Another bummer: Some research suggests that stretching won’t do much to eliminate muscle soreness. In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that pre- or post-exercise stretching didn’t stop bothersome aches and pain.Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011, Jul.;(7):1469-493X. (The likely reason: Micro-tears in the muscle and surrounding connective tissue are to blame for soreness, which stretching won’t repair.)
The Bottom Line
Your best bet: Do some dynamic stretches before a workout, which can prepare your muscles and even improve athletic performance. With all the evidence against it, it’s probably smart to avoid static stretches before a workout. Still, Mulcahy believes static stretches can be helpful for people who spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. She suggests loosening up hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, and back muscles with static stretches (post-workout) a few times a week. In the end, be sure to talk to a certified trainer to find a plan that best suits your fitness level and goals.
Do You Need To Stretch Before And After Exercise?
Many people stretch when they exercise or play sport. Others don’t stretch but feel they should. And some people don’t see any reason to stretch at all.
The reasons for stretching are diverse. Most people think stretching makes them more flexible. Some believe stretching reduces the risk of injury, reduces soreness experienced after exercise, or enhances sporting performance. Optimists think stretching does all these things.
But do we really need to stretch when we exercise? And does stretching increase flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, reduce soreness and enhance sporting performance? The answer is neither yes nor no.
The only way researchers can get a really clear idea of the effects of stretching is to conduct randomised trials. (Here’s a clear explanation of why randomised trials are special that you can read later.)
In randomised trials, a lottery is used to allocate each participant to either receive the treatment (in this case, stretching) or not. Then the outcomes (injury, muscle soreness or sporting performance) of the trial participants who stretched are compared with the outcomes of those who didn’t. The difference in the outcomes of the two groups tells us about the effects of stretching.
The first two trials of the effects of stretching on risk of injury, conducted on 2,631 army recruits, showed three months of routine stretching before exercise didn’t appreciably reduce injury risk. A more recent trial on 2,377 recreationally active people had very similar findings: three months of regular stretching had little or no effect on risk.
Together, these trials strongly suggest stretching doesn’t appreciably reduce injury risk.
A number of other randomised trials have investigated the effects of stretching before and after physical activity on the soreness experienced after exercise. They suggest stretching does reduce soreness, but the effect is very small.
A review of such trials concluded that:
muscle stretching, whether conducted before, after, or before and after exercise, does not produce clinically important reductions in delayed-onset muscle soreness in healthy adults.
Flexibility And Strength
The effect of stretching on sporting performance is less clear, or at least more complex.
Few randomised trials have measured sporting performance as an outcome. Instead, most have studied the effect of stretching on two intermediaries that are likely to affect sporting performance: flexibility and the ability of muscles to generate force.
Ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than the rest of us. Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr, CC BY-SA
To understand the effects of stretching on flexibility and muscle force generation, it’s necessary to distinguish its acute and chronic effects. Acute effects manifest immediately after a stretch whereas chronic effects manifest only after repeated bouts of stretching, perhaps over months or years.
Stretching acutely increases flexibility: after just a few seconds or a few minutes of stretching, joints move further and resist movement less. But this effect is transient. Once the stretching stops, flexibility returns to pre-stretch levels. And recovery is largely complete within a few minutes of finishing the stretch.
It’s possible, but less certain, that stretching also has chronic effects on flexibility. Regular stretching could stimulate adaptations of muscles and other tissues that bring about lasting increases in flexibility.
Everyday observations suggest that’s true, because ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than the rest of us. But, while it seems obvious that regular stretching makes people more flexible, it has proved remarkably difficult to demonstrate that in controlled experiments.
Stretching does make people tolerate stretch more. That is, it makes people feel able to get into more stretched positions. And this increase in stretch tolerance may make people feel more flexible even when they’re not.
Either way, the effects of stretching on flexibility – acute or chronic – could be exploited to enhance performance of some sports. It seems likely that hurdlers or gymnasts, for instance, could perform better if they were more flexible. More generally, it appears likely that stretching could increase performance in sports that require flexibility.
It seems likely that hurdlers could perform better if they were more flexible. Melinda Huntley/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
The other way stretching could affect performance is through its effects on the ability of muscles to produce force. The clearest conclusion that arises from studies on humans is that stretching typically produces a small, temporary reduction in the strength of stretched muscles.
This suggests it may be unwise to stretch muscles immediately prior to sport if it requires generation of large muscle forces.
To Stretch Or Not To Stretch?
For recreationally active people, these research findings suggest stretching might have a very small benefit and probably won’t do any harm. If you like stretching, stretch. If you don’t like stretching, don’t do it and don’t feel guilty about not doing it.
For high-level athletes, there’s more at stake and the decision is harder. Stretching might increase performance in sports that require lots of flexibility but could temporarily decrease muscle strength; it makes more sense to stretch if you’re a hurdler than if you’re a weightlifter.
These conclusions come with some caveats. First, most of the research into the effects of stretching has investigated the effects of “static” stretching – stretches that are applied and sustained for a short while. There are many other ways of stretching, but most have been the subject of relatively little research, or only poor-quality research.
Another caveat is that, while quite a lot is known about the acute effects of stretching, much less is known about its chronic effects. No one has attempted to conduct a randomised trial of the effects of regular stretching over periods of years.
It may be that, in the long term, regular stretching has important effects. Then again, it may be that the long-term effects of stretching are harmful, or that there’s no long-term effect at all: we just don’t know.
Similarly, good evidence of the superiority of one method of stretching over another, or of the long-term effects of particular kinds of stretching, doesn’t exist.
To finish on a more positive note: while it appears that stretching doesn’t appreciably reduce risk of injury, there’s good evidence that warming up does. An intensive, well-structured, active warm-up can substantially reduce risk of injury, so try doing that the next time you exercise.
Rob Herbert is Senior Principal Research Fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Try This 5-Minute Dynamic Stretching Routine to Prep for Any Workout
For decades, static stretching (holding a stretch for 10 or more seconds while motionless) was the most popular type of warm-up for athletes. These days, warm-ups that are dynamic (moving as you stretch) are all the rage, and for good reason.
Here’s why dynamic stretching is ideal during a warm-up routine:
- It activates muscles you will use during your workout. For example, a lunge with a twist is a dynamic stretching exercise that engages your hips, legs, and core muscles. Whether you’re doing weighted lunges in the gym, or lunging for a soccer ball, the key muscles have already engaged during your warm-up.
- Dynamic stretching improves range of motion. In a 2019 study,researchers showed that dynamic stretching increased the range of motion on hamstring muscles and knee extension by 10 percent, while reducing stiffness. Iwata M, et al. (2019). Dynamic stretching has sustained effects on range of motion and passive stiffness of the hamstring muscles. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30787647 If you feel like you can barely bend over to tie your shoes after a long day at work, a dynamic warm-up routine can help you feel more limber.
- Dynamic stretches improve body awareness. If you don’t warm up and hop right into a soccer game, it may take a while for your body to perform optimally. Moving as you stretch challenges your balance and coordination, skills that could help your performance.
- Warming up in motion could increase flexibility. A 2017 study on Division I linemen found that dynamic stretching increased hip flexibility on par with using a foam roller. Bahara B, et al. (2017). Acute effects of deep tissue foam rolling and dynamic stretching on muscular strength, power, and flexibility in Division I linemen. https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00124278-201704000-00003 While it’s true that we’re not all pro football players, it may be worth giving a shot. If you’re trying to get stronger, build more muscle, or simply perform better, a dynamic warm-up routine is likely your best bet. Next time you go for a jog, play some hoops, or hit the gym, give this warm-up a try. Your body will thank you!
Stretching: 9 Benefits, Plus Safety Tips and How to Start
1. Increases your flexibility
Regular stretching can help increase your flexibility, which is crucial for your overall health. Not only can improved flexibility help you to perform everyday activities with relative ease, but it can also help delay the reduced mobility that can come with aging.
2. Increases your range of motion
Being able to move a joint through its full range of motion gives you more freedom of movement. Stretching on a regular basis can help increase your range of motion.
One study found that both static and dynamic stretching are effective when it comes to increasing range of motion, although proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)-type stretching, where you stretch a muscle to its limit, may be more effective for immediate gains.
3. Improves your performance in physical activities
Performing dynamic stretches prior to physical activities has been shown to help prepare your muscles for the activity. It may also help improve your performance in an athletic event or exercise.
4. Increases blood flow to your muscles
Performing stretches on a regular basis may improve your circulation. Improved circulation increases blood flow to your muscles, which can shorten your recovery time and reduce muscle soreness (also known as delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS).
5. Improves your posture
Muscle imbalances are common and can lead to poor posture. One study found that a combination of strengthening and stretching specific muscle groups can reduce musculoskeletal pain and encourage proper alignment. That, in turn, may help improve your posture.
6. Helps to heal and prevent back pain
Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in your range of motion. When this happens, you increase the likelihood of straining the muscles in your back. Stretching can help heal an existing back injury by stretching the muscles.
A regular stretching routine can also help prevent future back pain by strengthening your back muscles and reducing your risk for muscle strain.
7. Is great for stress relief
When you’re experiencing stress, there’s a good chance your muscles are tense. That’s because your muscles tend to tighten up in response to physical and emotional stress. Focus on areas of your body where you tend to hold your stress, such as your neck, shoulders, and upper back.
8. Can calm your mind
Participating in a regular stretching program not only helps increase your flexibility, but it can also calm your mind. While you stretch, focus on mindfulness and meditation exercises, which give your mind a mental break.
9. Helps decrease tension headaches
Tension and stress headaches can interfere with your daily life. In addition to a proper diet, adequate hydration, and plenty of rest, stretching may help reduce the tension you feel from headaches.
Dynamic Stretching 101
We hope you were able to catch our recent Fitness Friday broadcast all about static stretching! Today, we’ll cover the flip side of flexibility training—dynamic stretching.
You may remember that flexibility, the range of motion of our joints, is an important component of fitness for many reasons. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (2008), flexibility training is used to:
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Increase joint range of motion
- Decrease excessive tension of muscles
- Relieve joint stress
- Maintain normal functional length of all muscles
- And much more!
While static stretching improves our static flexibility, dynamic stretching improves our dynamic flexibility, or the range of motion of our joints during movement. In dynamic stretching, we perform multiple repetitions of a movement and ease our way to greater range of motion. This type of stretching lets us mimic the range of motion and movements required in sports, exercise, and activities of daily living.
When to Perform Dynamic Stretching
It is typically recommended that we perform dynamic stretching in our warm-up or as a stand-alone workout. Depending on the intensity of your dynamic stretching routine, you could earn quite a few MEPs and get into some different heart rate zones! An effective way to structure your warm-up is to perform a general warm-up consisting of cardiorespiratory exercise (ex: 5-10 min walking, cycling, or jogging), followed by a specific warm-up consisting of dynamic stretches. A specific warm-up is named as such because it mimics and prepares you for the movements you will perform during your workout. You can check out our tips for a dynamic warm-up here.
We’ll get into exercises for dynamic stretching later, but keep in mind that any exercise/stretch that challenges the range of motion of your joints should be performed when your body’s tissues are at an elevated temperature. Thus, we recommend that you perform a 5-10-minute general warm-up of some light cardio before you do dynamic stretching. If that is not possible, be extra careful to ease your way into dynamic stretching exercises and into higher heart rate zones.
Since the major goals of dynamic stretching are to improve dynamic range of motion required in movements/exercises and to prepare or warm-up our body for exercise, we should perform dynamic stretching prior to every workout. We also like to use an extended dynamic stretching session on recovery days.
How to Perform Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching often looks very similar to bodyweight training and can help you get into higher heart rate zones. In fact, you may use some of your dynamic stretching exercises in your workout! The key is that you ease your way into your range of motion during dynamic stretching and use either bodyweight or very light resistance. Here are some details on sets and reps, range of motion, tempo, load, and breathing:
Sets & Reps
Perform 3-10 dynamic stretches for about 10 repetitions and 1 set each. If you’re using more dynamic, multi-joint stretches, you can work on the lower side of the 3-10 range. If you’re using stretches that focus on only one or two joints at a time, work on the upper sides of that range.
Range of Motion
Slowly increase your speed and range of motion during your dynamic stretches. For example, you might begin with shoulder rolls, then add arm circles, then increase the speed of the arm circles.
It is unlikely that you will feel as much tension in your muscles and connective tissue in dynamic stretching as you do in static stretching, and that’s OK. Aim to increase your range of motion just a bit in each repetition to the point where you can feel a lengthening of your connective tissue around your joint. You should not feel pain during dynamic stretching!
Each repetition should be performed with control. While the exact tempo you use may vary, it is recommended that you start slow and gradually increase the speed of your repetitions. Unlike static stretching, you will not hold your dynamic stretch at the end of your range of motion for an extended period of time. You may hold your end range of motion (when you’re feeling the stretch the most) for about 1-2 seconds, or you may not even hold the stretch at all.
It is important to perform dynamic stretches in a fluid movement and to avoid bouncing. While bouncing is involved in one type of stretching – ballistic stretching – it may cause injury and is probably not beneficial for most exercisers.
Dynamic stretching should be performed using bodyweight or very light resistance, such as a light medicine ball or barbell. Save the heavy weights for the resistance training portion of your workout.
Remember to breathe! Your breathing during dynamic stretching will mimic your breathing during resistance training exercises; inhale during the eccentric part of the movement (when you’re working with the load or gravity) and exhale on the concentric part (when you’re working against the load or gravity). For example, appropriate breathing in an air squat is to inhale as you lower down (eccentric) and exhale as you press up (concentric).
Organizing Your Dynamic Stretching Routine
Your dynamic stretching routine will likely look different from others’ based on the goals of your workout; just like most aspects of exercise, there is not a one-size-fits-all mold. That said, here are 3 things to keep in mind when you design your dynamic stretch routine:
Gradually Increase Your Range of Motion
The range of motion you achieve during your last rep should be larger than it was during your first repetition, whether that means you’re reaching farther, hinging more, or taking a larger step. An example is to begin with a half squat and gradually work your way into a parallel or deep squat.
Start Simple, Ease Your Way to Complexity
Dynamic stretching can be very time-efficient because you are able to add multiple movements together. For example, a walking lunge with a torso twist is a common dynamic stretch. However, always start small and gradually build upon your movements. You can do this by ordering your exercises as follows: 1) exercises that utilize fewer joints, 2) exercises that utilize more joints, 3) multiple exercises combined. An example that follows this 1) knee tucks (primary joints involved are hips and knees), 2) walking lunges (primary joints involved are hips, knees, ankles), 3) walking lunges with a torso twist (primary joints involved are hips, knees, ankles, thoracic spine).
Focus on Muscle Groups & Joints Used in Your Workout
Although it’s not a bad idea to target all major muscle groups in a dynamic stretching routine, it isn’t always the most time-efficient option. When selecting stretches, think about which major muscle groups you will target in your workout. If you’re going to hit chest and back, most of your dynamic stretches should focus on your chest and back. If you plan to perform a total-body workout, it will be wise to select stretches that hit each major muscle group and can get your working in higher heart rate zones.
Here are some muscle groups that you can think about targeting in a total-body dynamic stretch routine:
- Lower Body:
- Hip Flexors
- Quadriceps (Thigh)
- Adductors (Inner Thigh)
- Abductors (Outer Thigh & Glutes)
- Upper Body:
- Upper-, Mid-, and Lower-Back
We’ll perform sample dynamic stretches for you in an upcoming #FitnessFriday Facebook Live broadcast. We’re live every Friday at 8 am PT, 11 am ET on the MYZONE Facebook page. You can also catch all of our previous videos on the MYZONE YouTube page.
Be sure to post photos or videos of your dynamic stretches to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtags #myzonemoves and #effortrewarded so we can see how you’re getting up your heart rate zones!
Keep Moving Forward!