If you work out, you've likely made stretching part of your warming up and cooling down routines. It improves range of motion, flexibility, circulation and the overall success of your workout. Different kinds of training call for different types of stretching. Knowing them will help determine the appropriate type for your particular fitness program.
Static stretching, the kind a fitness instructor leads at the end of a class, involves stretching a body part to its farthest position and then holding it for 30 seconds or more. It does not involve bouncing or rapid movements, just a mild, painless pulling sensation. You feel the stretch through the entire length and center of the muscle and not in the joints.
Passive stretching is similar to static stretching, except that an apparatus or partner provides the force to stretch the muscle. For example, you may stand with your back against a wall while your exercise partner lifts your leg to stretch the hamstring. Passive stretching relieves muscle spasms and helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness after a workout.
Dynamic stretching involves controlled swinging of the arms and legs that gently takes them to the limits of their range of motion. Here, parts of the body are moved with gradually increasing speed, reach or both.
Ballistic stretching forces a body part to go beyond its normal range of motion by making it bounce to a stretched position. It increases range of motion and triggers the muscle's stretch reflex. Performing ballistic stretching can make you more susceptible to injury. Only highly conditioned and competent athletes preparing for strenuous activity should employ it.
Active Isolated Stretching
Active isolated stretching is most commonly used by professionals: athletes, trainers, massage therapists and others. To complete at active isolated stretch, you reach a certain position and hold it steady without any assistance other than the strength of your own muscles. Kick a leg up high, for example, and hold it up in that extended posture. Active isolated stretching works with natural physiological processes to increase muscle and fascia elasticity and improve circulation.
In isometric stretching, as a muscle is stretched into position, you resist the stretch. For example, have a partner hold your leg up high while you attempt to force back your leg in the opposite direction. Isometric stretching is the safest and most effective method for increasing the joints' range of motion, and it strengthens tendons and ligaments while retaining their flexibility.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation combines isometric, static and passive stretching to foster a high level of flexibility. Perform it by passively stretching a muscle; isometrically contracting it against resistance in the stretched position; and passively stretching it through the resulting increased range of motion. It is an advanced form of flexibility training that also helps improve strength.
- "Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning"; Thomas R. Baechle, et al.; 2000
- "American Journal of Sports Medicine"; Muscle Flexibility as a Risk Factor for Seveloping Muscle Injuries . . .; Erik Witvrouw, et al.; January-February 2003
- The Stretching Institute: PNF Stretching Explained -- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Faciliation; Brad Walker; 2011