This is a question we get asked a lot in the clinic so I thought I’d shed some light on the topic.
Stretching is important to keep your muscles supple. There are seven primary types of stretching, each of which help different people of varying flexibility and needs, but there’s no “one size fits all”. In this blog I’m going to go through the more popular, well know types of stretching and answer the question, When is best to stretch – before or after physical exercise?
Types of stretching
Static stretching is the most commonly used type of stretching and is considers one of the safest because of the relatively low levels of tension required. When performing a static stretch you stretch a muscle or group of muscles to its furthest point, holding the position for 30 to 60 seconds. When holding a static stretch you should feel a gentle pull in the muscle or muscle group you’re stretching, no pain should be experienced during this stretch.
Passive stretching is similar to static stretching, the difference being that with passive stretching, you don’t supply the force to stretch a muscle. Instead, a stretching partner or outside apparatus does. For example, somebody pushing back your straightened leg while you’re lying on your back. With this type of stretching it is important that the person who is helping you stretch knows your limit and doesn’t over stretch your leg and causes an injury.
In dynamic stretching there is no bouncing or rapid movements, its all slow, controlled movements. For example gentle leg swings, arm swing or torso twists. The controlled leg and arm movements help you to gently push your muscles to the limits of your range of motion. Dynamic stretching can help improve your flexibility and it can be just as effective as part of a warm-up before higher intensity exercises.
Ballistic stretching is similar to dynamic stretching. However, ballistic stretching pushes your muscles beyond their normal range of motion. This style of stretching involves bouncing or jerking movements to force yourself into a stretch position. An example of a ballistic stretch would be repeatedly bouncing toward your toe to stretch your hamstrings. Ballistic stretching does have an increase chance of a muscle injury due to the forces placed on a muscle. So if you’re planning on doing a ballistic stretch make sure your muscles are warmed up beforehand.
Which type of stretching is best? Static or dynamic?
There are many benefits of stretching before a workout, however there are particular types of stretching which are better than others for before and after exercise.
It has been discussed in many articles that static stretching as part of a warm-up before exercise has a detrimental effect to muscle performance. Static stretching causes a loss of strength in the muscle, this is known as “stretch-induced strength loss”. In contrast to static stretching, dynamic stretching is not associated with strength or performance deficits, and has been shown to improve muscle performance. Furthermore, when comparing dynamic and static stretching, they both appear equally effective at improving ROM acutely or over time with training.
So the answer to the question really depends on the type of exercise you’re going to carry out after stretching. If you’re looking to get a PB out running or max out on your back squat, static is stretching is not for you. However, if you’re looking to improve your flexibility and loosen of before a workout then either method of stretching is useful.
When’s best to stretch? Before or after exercise?
If something feels tight during your warm up – stretch it! But stretching before exercise is not all ways needed. As mentioned above static stretches before exercises can weaken performance, such as sprint speed. However, it is beneficial to perform dynamic stretches, these could include, a brisk walk, waking lunges, leg swings, high steps.
Stretching is best carried out when your muscles are warm, as it can reduce your chance of injury.
Depending on your workout goal, dynamic stretches are great to utilise before exercise to help improve your muscle flexibility and range of movement. Whereas after a workout static stretches are a great, as your muscles are warm and pliable and will help to remove any waste product in your muscles after your workout.
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