Types of Stretches

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Types of stretches

There are many different types of stretches. The best type of stretch to perform depends on whether you are stretching before or after your main workout, what you want to achieve from the stretch and your fitness level.

The basic types of stretches are active and passive. These can be performed as static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches. Read on to discover more about these different types of stretches.

Static stretches

Static stretches are stretches where the muscle being stretched remains still. These stretches are the usual type of stretches performed in exercise programmes because they are effective and very safe.

The risk of injury using static stretching is very low. During a static stretch, the muscle is placed under a moderate tension and held for a certain length of time.

Dynamic stretches

Dynamic stretches are more advanced stretches which puts the muscle through a steadily increasing range of movement, in which it lengthens then shortens a number of times to steadily stretch the muscle.

For example, steadily increasing the depth of a lunge to stretch the legs or circling the legs through an increasingly large range of movement.

Dynamic stretches are often used by sports participants and athletes as they are ideal for reflecting the sport the participant is about to practice.

Dynamic stretches have a higher risk of injury due to the large movements involved, so novice exercisers should stay with static stretches.


Ballistic stretches

Ballistic stretches are stretches where the exerciser bounces in and out of the stretch at the end of the movement.

Ballistic stretches have very much fallen out of favour among exercise professionals due to the large amount of evidence showing that ballistic stretching not only has a higher risk of injury but actually reduces the flexibility of a muscle in the long term.

This is because the bouncing movement causes tears in the muscle fibres and the resulting scar tissue causes a decrease in the range of movement achievable over time. Ballistic stretches are best avoided.

PNF stretches

PNF stretches (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilation stretches) are advanced stretches used mostly be phyisotherapists with patients with neuromuscular disorders to increase the muscle length and flexibility.

PNF stretching uses manipulation of the nervous system via the stretch reflex to gently increase range of movement in the muscle. These stretches need a good understanding of PNF techniques.

Active and Passive stretches

Active stretches and passive stretches describe the way a stretch is carried out.

Active stretching

Active stretching is where the opposing (agonist) muscle is used to support the stretching muscle and provide the right amount of tension, without the aid of any object or other person.

These stretches can be simple, such as arm raises, or more complex and requiring strong balance and strength in the agonist muscle.

Sometimes active stretches can be ineffective if the agonist muscle does not have sufficient strength to hold the muscle in place and provide the right amount of tension in the stretching muscle.

These more complex active stretches should only be attempted by advanced exercisers.

Passive stretching

Passive stretches are the opposite of active stretches in that in passive stretches the muscle being stretched is supported by an object, your own bodyweight or another person.

These stretches are easier to hold and do not require strength in the agonist muscle to maintain the stretch.

For example, you could stretch your leg by supporting it on chair or by holding yourself steady against the wall.

Which stretches do you prefer in general for preparation and post-workout stretching?

Have you ever used ballistic stretches? Or PNF stretching?

Read more about types of stretches:

Introduction to stretching

Preparation stretches

Post workout stretches

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