Most individuals know that a good stretching routine is important for health and mobility. However, you have probably been taught 5 different theories behind stretching and may be confused about the appropriate way to stretch.
Here is a description of 3 of the most common forms of stretching along with a description of when they are beneficial to perform.
Static Stretching- This is the most common type of stretching that you hear about. The individual will move to an end range of motion to where a comfortable pull is felt in a muscle and they will hold that position. Generally, 30 second holds for 2-4 repetitions is beneficial for increasing muscle length. This type of stretching should be performed 3 days a week after an active warm up (i.e. walking) or following conclusion of a sporting event.
Dynamic Stretching- This is the type of stretching that most athletes who run or jump in their sport will perform before they play. In this type of stretching, the patient repetitively moves through a full range of motion, without bouncing movements. Examples include high knees and straight leg kicks while walking. This is ideally performed after an active warm up of walking or light jogging and before sport specific warm up.
Ballistic Stretching- This type of stretching consists of the patient moving into their end range of motion, as with a static stretch, and then making small bouncing movements at the end range. While this type of stretching is commonly believed to be good, it actually has a higher rate of injury and should only be performed by certain elite-level athletes. In general, most people should avoid this type of stretching.
One key thing to remember with stretching is that it should remain comfortable. As long as you are feeling a stretch, you are providing a benefit to your muscles. You do not need to push yourself as far as possible and hold in a painful position to see improvements in muscle length.
Good stretching leads to happy muscles and prepares them to withstand the stresses that are placed on them.
Kaitlin Wensinger, PT, DPT