Whether you are a professional athlete, fitness enthusiast, cat lover, dog walker, or anything in between, stretching is a popular activity for its range of benefits.

Although stretching has many benefits, there is ongoing discussion into what type of stretching is best, and how this may change depending on your purpose (e.g. rehabilitation, cool-down).

Firstly, let’s explain the four most common types of stretching.

The Low-Down of Stretches

1. Static Stretching

Static stretching involves holding a pose for an amount of time, avoiding bouncing or movement. For example, reaching your arms down to your toes and staying here is a static stretch. This action is active stretching, as you are in control of the movement. Whereas, if a friend increased your stretch by gently pushing your back down further, this is regarded as passive (1).

2. Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic Stretching involves the controlled movement of muscles and is commonly used as part of a warm-up before sports or exercise (2). For example, a rugby player performing leg swings from front to back, as well as out to the side during pre-game is dynamic.

3. Ballistic Stretching

Not to be confused with dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching involves bouncing movements (1). This bounce can increase risk of injury, especially without guidance from a professional or if you are not a trained athlete. Therefore, the safer option is sticking to dynamic stretching is that focuses on controlled movement.

4. PNF Stretching

Don’t let the term ‘proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation’, or PNF, scare you. It’s an effective (and pretty cool) way to stretch. There are different ways to do this stretch. However, ultimately you’ll be intensely contracting the muscle at certain times in a cycle, and relaxing it at other times whilst it stretches further (3).

READ MORE: 6 Ways to Increase Workout Motivation

The Benefits of Stretching

1. Increased Range of Motion (ROM) & Flexibility

It is commonly known that stretching increases flexibility by pushing the muscles past their normal ROM, extending the thresholds over time. A 2015 study found static, dynamic, and PNF stretching to all be effective in increasing ROM (3).

PSSST! Want to see this benefit in action? I stretched like dancer Alivia D’Andrea for only two weeks and I could visibly see increases in my flexibility. Watch until the end for the before and after footage.

2. Improved Sport Performance / Injury Prevention

Stretching can be a crucial component in the warm-up phase of sports and exercise. However, it is vital to utilise the best type of stretching for this. Static stretching before sports shows adverse effects, which may increase injury (4).

Alternatively, dynamic stretching can prepare the body for exercise, increase heart rate, and is essentially a more effective way to warm-up (1). Likewise, dynamic moves using sport-specific skills can prepare the athlete for movements and plays in their sport.

Stretching improves sport performance and helps decrease risk of injury (Photo by Retha Ferguson) - Fit by Kat
Photo by Retha Ferguson

3. Improved Circulation

Stretching improves circulation by aiding blood flow to the muscles stretched. Therefore, the essential nutrients can be transported. One study by Hotta and colleagues using aged rats found that daily passive stretching may contribute to increased blood flow during exercise (5).

Stretching can foster relaxation which may help you sleep better (Photo by Andrea Piacquadio) - Fit by Kat
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

4. Improved Sleep Quality

Stretching can act as a form of meditation and promote relaxation. And when you’re relaxed, you can sleep better. One study on postmenopausal women found both stretching and exercising to increase their sleep quality (through self-reporting) (6).

Personally, stretching has become a daily activity for me due to my lack of sleep quality. As a result, I feel more relaxed when I do gentle stretches before bed with dimmed lights and a candle (talk about ambience!).

Finally, too much of anything is never good. According to Miller on Wexner Medical, stretching a tendon 4% beyond its original length may lead to permanent damage (7). Most importantly, stretch to what you feel is comfortable. Remember, a small discomfort is necessary to improve flexibility. However, you should never feel pain. Be careful and happy stretching!

References

1. Page, P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 109-119.

2. Walden, M. (n.d.). Types of stretching exercises. Sports Injury Clinic. https://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/rehabilitation-exercises/stretching-exercises/types-of-stretching#dynamic

3. Behm, D., Blazevich, A., Kay, A., & McHugh, M. (2015). Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(1), 1-11.

4. Opplert, J., & Babault, N. (2019). Acute effects of dynamic stretching on mechanical properties result from both muscle-tendon stretching and muscle warm-up. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(2), 351-358.

5. Hotta, K., Behnke, B., Arjmandi, B., Ghosh, P., Chen, B., Brooks, R., Maraj, J., Elam, M., Maher, P., Kurien, D., Churchill, A., Sepulveda, J., Kabolowsky, M., Christou, D., & Muller-Delp, J. (2018). Daily muscle stretching enhances blood flow, endothelial function, capillarity, vascular volume and connectivity in aged skeletal muscle. The Journal of Physiology, 596(10), 1903-1917.

6. Tworoger, S., Yasui, Y., Vitiello, M., Schwartz, R., Ulrich, C., Aiello, E., Irwin, M., Bowen, D., Potter, J., & McTiernan, A. (2003). Effects of yearlong moderate-intensity exercise and a stretching intervention on sleep quality in postmenopausal women. Sleep, 26(7), 830-836.

7. Miller, T. (2017, October 10). Why stretching is more important than you think. Wexner Medical. https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/benefits-of-stretching