Whether you’re an elite athlete, weekend warrior, average gym-goer or just starting to exercise for the first time, you’ve probably tried stretching to loosen muscles before a workout or to help sore muscles recover. But what most people don’t know is there are many types of stretching and different recommendations on when to perform each, so the practice goes well beyond touching your toes.
Depending on who you ask, there are multiple types of stretches, but the four common movement patterns include static, active, dynamic and ballistic stretching. Some are better for warming up before workouts, while others are recommended for cooling down afterward. To learn more, we spoke with a man who moves for a living: Anthony Crouchelli, founder of the.1method and Master Trainer at GRIT BXNG. Below, he explains the four movement patterns and what to know about each one.
“Static stretch patterns are built around holding a position for a duration of time,” says Crouchelli. Often performed while seated, standing or lying flat on your back, static stretches focus on lengthening the muscles by staying in one position, rather than through movement. Most experts suggest holding a static stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Examples: Cobra pose; seated butterfly stretch
When to do it: Perform static stretches after your workout to help your body cool down and recover.
When you engage in active stretching, you use opposing muscles to stretch yourself without requiring any additional forces, says Crouchelli. Your quads may be working while your hamstrings stretch, so your body is playing an active role in the stretch. Active stretches typically include multiple repetitions and are held for shorter durations than static stretches.
Examples: Straight leg raises while lying on your back; seated wall angels
When to do it: These versatile stretches can be performed before or after workouts.
Studies show adding dynamic stretching to your warmup improves strength, agility and endurance. In these movement patterns, joints and muscles actively go through a full range of motion and may even mirror your workout — for example, walking lunges or standing knee raises before going for a jog. “Dynamic stretches are great for increasing range and mobility,” says Crouchelli.
Examples: Walking lunges with a twist; standing straight leg kicks
When to do it: Crouchelli recommends dynamic stretching for pre-game warmups, before workouts and on recovery days.
“Ballistic stretches are similar to dynamic stretches, but they focus more on expanding your joints and muscles past their normal range of motion,” says Crouchelli. When performed safely with controlled movements, these stretches may lengthen and loosen muscles faster and further than other stretches. A BMJ study found ballistic stretching — often described as bouncing into and out of a stretched position — improved hamstring flexibility better than static stretching, but be careful not to overdo it. Ballistic stretching is often performed by athletes who wish to maximize their body’s capabilities, but because it carries a risk of injury, it’s not for everyone. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before giving it a try.
Examples: Sitting toe reaches; standing lunges; shoulder rotations
When to do It: Try ballistic stretching after your workout or on rest days (after warming up your muscles).
THE BOTTOM LINE
As you can see from the above, not all stretching is created equal. There’s a time and place for each kind of stretch, but not all stretching is for everyone. Take your time learning the movements, and ask for guidance from a certified personal trainer or coach if you’re unsure of the proper use or form of a movement.
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