Types of Stretches
Most people are surprised to learn that there are multiple types of stretches.
The two most common types of stretches are static and dynamic stretching. These two types of stretches provide the simplest, safest route to flexibility for most people.
Static stretching is what most think about when stretching.
Static stretching is when you hold a position that stretches a muscle or group of muscles for a given period of time.
Static stretches can be active or passive, though passive stretches are by far the most common.
Contrary to popular belief, you should not perform static stretching before exercise.
Dynamic stretches involve movement.
Dynamic stretching is when you take specific muscles and joints through their normal range of motion, from one position to another, to loosen up the joints and stretch the muscles.
The action is smooth and controlled and often mimics a sports motion, such as a golf swing or arm swings.
While static stretches should not be performed before exercising, dynamic stretches are beneficial and help warm up the body.
Many people try to go deeper into a stretch by adopting a stretch position, then bouncing extend muscle length and range of motion.
Stretches like these are called ballistic stretches.
It works by triggering the stretch reflex: resistance prompted by specialized nerves, forcing a lengthening muscle to contract.
Ballistic stretching is great for athletes, who must perform quick, powerful actions.
However, ballistic stretches go beyond an individual’s normal range of motion and can injure muscles if not done correctly.
For this reason I do not recommend this type of stretching for most people.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active isolated stretching is usually performed in reps and sets, just as strength exercises.
With active isolated stretching, instead of holding a stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, you hold it for only two seconds, slowly release it, and
repeat several times.
The idea is that each time you resume the stretch you are able to stretch a little farther than the time before.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, is favored by some exercise and rehabilitation experts, who believe it enhances range of motion more than other approaches to stretching.
But unlike static stretches, which can be done safely by anyone, PNF is best done with a partner and requires advanced training.
PNF takes a two-step approach. It starts with isometric contraction of the muscle that opposes the one you want to stretch. (To do an isometric contraction, you press against an immovable object, like a partner, so that the muscle activates without lengthening or shortening.)
Then you follow with a passive static stretch of the target muscle, usually applied by a partner who focuses on moving a joint through its range of motion.
Because PNF stretches are generally done with a partner and require expertise to perform safely, we recommend that anyone interested in learning these stretches should work one-on-one with an experienced trainer or physical therapist.
While not technically a type of stretching, foam rolling may be another way to improve flexibility by loosening up fascia, the thin sheath of tissue surrounding each of your muscles.
Foam rolling is a form of selfmyofascial release (SMR), in which you loosen fascia by rolling parts of your body over a cylindrical piece of high-density foam. (Tennis or lacrosse balls can also be used for this purpose.)