Stretching is an important part of any fitness regimen for any type of athlete. It loosens muscles prior to after any physical activity to increase range of motion and decrease your risk of injury. However, all stretches are not created equal and choosing the correct type of stretching at the correct time is shown to be increasingly important for your overall muscle health and wellness and help your body reach it’s peak performance.
So what are the different types of stretching and when should you use each type? Let’s take a look:
What is it?
Dynamic stretches are active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but are not held in the end position. Instead of holding the stretch (as you would in static stretching) dynamic stretching uses stretches you are actually continuing to move throughout your dynamic stretching routine.
Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly (usually 10-12 times).
What are the benefits and when shoudl I use this type of stretching?
Dynamic stretching is best utilized after your warm up prior to your workout. This is because dynamic stretches serve to prepare your muscles for the different types of movement and the intensity of the exercise you are about to perform. These stretches help increase blood flow, range of motion and awareness of your joint position.
Not only does this type of stretching help get the blood flowing and prepare your muscles for an intense game or workout, it also helps reduce the chances of injury and, over time, will improve your overall performance and maximize your movements due to the increase in flexibility of your joints.
Dynamic stretching, when done prior to a workout, has also been shown to significantly increase performance during that workout. Take this study by the Department of Physical Therapy of Wichita State University for example. This study evaluated the differences in performance of athletes who completed dynamic stretching, static stretching or no stretching at all and then took part in a standing long jump test. The test found that those who did a series of dynamic stretches showed significant increases in performance compared to those who did static stretching or no stretching at all.
How do I choose the dynamic stretchings I should use?
Since dynamic stretching is really meant to prepare your muscles for the exercise that you are about to complete, it’s important to choose your stretches based on what muscles will be most active during your workout. So your dynamic stretching routine will vary based on what type of athlete you are and the specific workout you’re planning on doing that day. For example, a martial artist who is working on kicking that day might go through a series of dynamic stretches that will warm up his/her hamstrings such as air squats, leg kicks and lunge while a bodybuilder planning to work on his shoulders might use a series of arm circles and swings that target the shoulder joints.
What is it?
Static stretching is the act of using prolonged holds to increase the flexibility of muscles and to lengthen soft tissue. Static stretches are designed to target the muscle groups, one at a time and lengthen those muscle groups.
What are the benefits and when should I use this type of stretching?
Static stretches have been shown to improve your muscle interactions, maintain range of motion and keep the muscle tissue healthy when done at the end of a workout. This type of stretching is best used when you are ready to slow down and become static and stationary. Static stretching will help elongate your muscles, cool them down and help release lactic acid built up during a workout. Research has show static stretching may decrease strength in targeted muscles for up to one hour which can lead to an increased risk of injury if pushed too far during that hour. This is one of the main reasons that this type of stretching should be completed after a workout rather than before.
In addition to cooling down, muscle groups and increasing range of motion long-term, static stretching can also relax both your body and your brain. Taking deep, slow breaths is recommended while performing static stretches which helps reduce feelings of stress. One of the side effects of stress is increased tension in the muscles, this can also be alleviated by static stretching.
How do I know what to stretch?
If you are performing static stretches after your workout, you want to try to target the muscle groups worked during the exercise. So if you took a 3 mile run, you want to focus more heavily on stretching your legs. But if you just finished an intense tricep and bicep lifting session, you’ll want to focus more heavily on those muscle groups.
Doing the right type of stretching at the right time is crucial not only for improving your overall performance but also for protecting your muscles from injury and strengthening them in the long run. It’s important for all types of athletes to properly warm up their muscles prior to their workouts and properly cool them down after. Dynamic and static stretching will help you make sure you’re keeping your muscles healthy and strong.
For more info on how to properly prepare for and recover from a workout, check out our Day-to-Day Recovery Checklist.