You might think that stretching is only for athletes, but everyone can benefit from stretching exercises. Stretching is an important component of physical fitness, according to the American Council on Exercise -- and without it, your joints can stiffen and your risk of injury increases. Static and dynamic are two stretching techniques that can help you maintain flexibility or prepare your body for a vigorous activity and help it recover. The main differences between the two are in how and when you perform them.
Static Stretching Explained
A static stretch involves stretching your muscle to a point where you feel a slight discomfort, but not to the point where you feel pain. The stretch and your position are then held with no movement for a period of time. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends holding the stretch 15 to 30 seconds and performing it three to five times. When done correctly, static stretches are relatively safe and can improve your flexibility. An example of a static stretch is the seated hamstring stretch. This is where you sit on the floor, extend your legs straight out in front of you and lean forward, trying to touch your toes, until you feel the stretch at the back of your thighs.
Dynamic Stretching Explained
Dynamic stretching is a technique used more by athletes. When you perform dynamic stretches, instead of holding the stretch for a period of time, you repeatedly move your joints and muscles through a full range of motion. Dynamic stretches also improve your flexibility and help reduce risk of injury. Your movements are controlled and deliberate and are meant to mimic the movements your joints and muscles go through in a specific sport or activity. Examples of dynamic stretches are walking lunges, high knee marching and arm circles.
When to Stretch
The type of stretches you perform and when you perform them can impact your performance. Studies have shown that static stretching before an athletic event or vigorous activity can reduce your strength and power. It's best to perform static stretches after an activity, when your muscles are still warm. A post-activity static stretch helps reduce muscle tension and soreness by elongating the muscle and increasing blood circulation. Dynamic stretches are most effective before an activity or athletic event because they help prepare your body for the specific movements. They elevate your heart rate and increase body temperature, which allows your muscles to move more efficiently -- and dynamic stretches wake up your nervous system, which gets your brain talking to your muscles.
Stretching Tips and Considerations
Stretching is most effective when done properly. Avoid static stretching if your muscles are cold. Perform a short warm-up to get blood flowing to your muscles. Avoid quick, bouncing or jerking movements when doing static stretches because this could result in muscle tears and pulls. Stretching should not be painful. If you have stretched to the point of pain, ease back slightly. Other than before or after a sporting event or activity, the ACSM recommends stretching a minimum of two days each week. Stretching every day is recommended if you have lost the flexibility in your joints, which has caused a reduction in your range of motion.