Curious about the different kinds of stretching? Here’s a look at the most common three forms of stretching, the pros and cons of each, and more.
Stretching is important, but often misunderstood way to increase body health, expand the range of motion, and even release tension in the body.
While stretching is typically performed by athletes or highly active persons, the benefits of stretching go far beyond the playing field or the gym.
Some of the certified benefits of stretching include:
- Increased range of motion
- Better muscle function
- Released tension
- Less stress
And while there are plenty of excellent stretching programs and apps out there, figuring out which type of stretching you do comes down to your current range of motion, injury history, and what you hope to accomplish with stretching.
- 1. Static Stretching
- 2. Dynamic Stretching
- 3. PNF Stretching
- More Stretching Resources
Here are the three main types of stretching that you can do so that you can apply them to your activity and goal of choice.
1. Static Stretching
⭐ Best for cooling down after a big workout
This is probably the form of stretching you are most familiar with. It’s the one we are all taught at a young age to use before and after exercising to reduce injury.
The consensus on the benefits of static stretching has shifted in recent years, with static stretches being recommended to be performed after a workout, and not before.
How long should you hold static stretches?
Static stretches are straightforward: move your limbs or torso until you feel a gentle pull, and then hold it for :20-:45 and repeat 2 to 5 times each, depending on how much time you have.
Needless to say, static stretching is putting considerable strain on your muscles, so if you go beyond a gentle pull into outright pain while stretching, you’ve gone overboard.
When is the best time to do static stretches?
After a workout or after exercise is the best time to do static stretches. Because the muscles are warm and “loose” you can further extend ligaments and tissue and improve flexibility.
Think of your muscles as a rubber band: when they’ve been warmed up, they are more elastic. Static stretching has been shown to reduce muscle stiffness after just two minutes of stretching3.
Static stretching restores range of motion and can even increase it in some cases, but it also provides a natural physical and mental warm-down after vigorous exercise.
2. Dynamic Stretching
⭐ Best for increased range of motion and warming up before a big workout
Dynamic stretches are a great tool for increasing range of motion and increasing blood flow to target areas before exercise or a big workout.
Dynamic stretches, as you can guess from the name, are more active in nature and don’t rely on “holds” but rather incorporate arm swings, leg swings, torso twists, and so on, to unlock stiff muscles and joints.
When should you do dynamic stretches?
Dynamic stretches are an excellent addition to your warm-up routine. The closer the dynamic stretches match your activity of choice, the better prepared you are to conquer your workout.
For example, as a lifelong competitive swimmer, I always do some arm swings before a big workout at the pool. Same thing at the gym. Part of my activation routine includes some bodyweight squats to prep my body and CNS for the heavy squats to come later.
Dynamic stretches can be done at any time. After sitting for long stretches at my desk I will do a few leg swings to open up my hips.
Are dynamic stretches effective?
Dynamic stretching can increase range of motion, decrease passive stiffness in muscle tissue, and in the case of one study, participants found that they were able to release more torque when doing knee extensions4.
For athletes and gymgoers in particular, dynamic stretching is a far better option than static stretching. The latter has been shown to reduce maximal strength and muscle power after static stretching, meaning that athletic performance got worse after static stretching5.
3. PNF Stretching
⭐ Best advanced stretching technique
PNF stretching is one of the newer mobility options on the block.
PNF (or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) is a more advanced form of stretching that has been proven over and over to increase extension and flexion in various joints of the body.
What is PNF stretching?
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation works by gently stretching a muscle until it is under tension, contracting the muscle for 5 to 7 seconds, and returning to a “normal” stretch for a period of 30 seconds. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat for 5 to 7 rounds.
Is PNF stretching effective?
How often should you do PNF stretching?
Because of the balance of resistance and stretching, PNF can be harder on the muscles. It’s important to allow sufficient time to recover between stretching session.
Researchers at MIT recommend not doing PNF stretching more than once a day and avoiding targeting the same muscle group within 36-hours.
Who is PNF stretching for?
PNF is an advanced form of stretching, and a type of stretching that can be dangerous when done improperly. For this reason, it’s not recommended for children and young adults whose bones are still growing.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are a surprising number of options when it comes to types of stretching.
(And we didn’t even touch other subsets of these stretches, including passive and isometric stretching…)
Ultimately, the type of stretches you do today should match up with your mobility and flexibility goals.
Choose your preferred form of stretching, drink up the benefits of better flexibility and decreased tension and improved athletic performance, and stretch on!
More Stretching Resources
I’ve written plenty on stretching here on my blog. Here are a few more resources and articles to help you on your journey to increased range of motion and more flexibility:
Hyperbolic Stretching – An Athlete’s Full Review. Wondering if this popular stretching program delivers on more flexibility and increased ROM? Check out my full review of Hyperbolic Stretching and see for yourself how effective this program can be.
The Best Stretching Programs and Apps for Improving Flexibility. Looking for a stretching program or app to help you kick up your flexibility? Here’s a detailed look at the top stretching apps for every level of user.