We have all been taught that stretching is important, but do you know the difference between the two most used types of stretching? These are dynamic and static stretching. Stretching increases your range of motion and flexibility by lengthening soft tissues such as muscles and ligaments. It promotes fluid movement during exercise, decreases soreness and minimizes injury. Different kinds of stretches are best used as a part of a warm-up versus a cool-down.
So, what is the difference? Dynamic stretches, as their name implies, involve moving. They are controlled movements that prepare the muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues for the exercise that is to come. They help take the muscles and joints through the motions of the exercise but in a slower, controlled way. Static stretches on the other hand do not involve active movement and are the classic stretches people think of in which you stand, sit or lie still while holding a stretch in a single position for period of time.
Dynamic stretches should be used as part of your warm-up routine before any form of exercise. Dynamic stretching is also shown to work best in athletes when they followed a warm up of light walking, swimming or cycling for 5-10 minutes. This form of stretching has been shown to help improve speed, agility and acceleration. It involves the active moving of your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. These functional and sport-specific movements help increase muscle temperature and decrease muscle stiffness. Dynamic stretches will stimulate reflexes in your tendons and muscles, and can also help your body recognize, through movement, its position in space, rather than relying purely on visual cues. This is huge for injury prevention. Think of it as training your body to move properly through the exercise. One of the main dangers that could arise in dynamic stretching is the danger to overdo it, or push the stretches too hard or too fast. The rule is to move gently and slowly, gradually increasing the range of motion.These movements are done repeatedly one after another so that the stretch can progress further with each repetition but control is key.
An example of a dynamic stretch is a walking lunge. Stand with your arms on your waist; take a step forward into a lunge, keeping your front knee in line with your hip and ankle and lowering your back knee toward the floor. Do not allow your front knee to drive past your front toes while lunging. Push off the back leg and step forward into a lunge with the opposite leg. Engage your core throughout this exercise. This dynamic stretch helps stretch the gluteus, hamstring and hip flexor muscles.
Static stretches are best used as a part of a cool-down routine to help prevent injury. Using static stretching as a maintenance stretching program will also help reduce your risk of injury. Using static stretches as part of your cool-down will help relieve muscle tension as static stretches help to elongate and loosen the muscle.
Static stretching is where you move a muscle to the end (or close to the end) of its range of motion and then maintain that position for a given time (usually 20-45 seconds). Static stretching is a very effective way to increase flexibility. However, these stretches should only be done after exercise as some research has shown that using static stretching before exercise will temporarily (but significantly) decrease the ability of a muscle to produce force.
An example of a static stretch is the hamstring stretch. Place one leg on a low step/chair with your hips and feet facing forward. Lean forward from your hips, keeping your back flat and knee straight until you feel a stretch in the back of you thigh.
So, there you have it! Dynamic stretching before exercise, and static stretching after! Do you take the time to stretch?