Stretching has long been used by athletes, gymnasts, and fitness enthusiasts prior to workouts and activities in order to improve joint and muscle movement. However, the purpose of stretching goes beyond sports and exercise as this provides flexibility and strength while maintaining the range of motion in the joints, thus benefiting all individuals. Static and dynamic stretching are two types of stretching regimens that serve different purposes with the main goal of improving muscle and joint condition.
Static stretching involves holding a position where a muscle or group of muscles is stretched to its longest point without feeling any pain. This increases flexibility, helps relieve muscle spasms, and prevents injury. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, involves smooth and controlled movement of the joints through their full range of motion. This movement benefits agility, speed, and acceleration which are useful in preparation for athletic events.
Understanding the differences between these two types of stretching regimens is important for optimizing performance in relation to athletic activities and day-to-day functioning. The positive and negative impacts of both stretches should be weighed according to the type of activity planned.
What is Static and Dynamic Stretching?
Static stretching, from its name, requires placement of a joint in a position that stretches the muscles at their greatest length while being held in a static position. The duration of the stretch may vary from as short as 10 seconds to as long as 90 seconds.
The static stretch allows the muscles to relax and elongate, thus reducing stiffness and decreasing the occurrence of injury. Other benefits include enhanced blood flow, increased flexibility, and improved range of motion. Some examples of static stretches include biceps stretch, posterior capsule stretch, hamstring stretch, and butterfly stretch.
On the other hand, dynamic stretching consists of slow and controlled joint movements taken to the limits of their range of motion but not beyond. Performed in sets of 8-12 repetitions, dynamic stretching positively impacts reach, speed of movement, and power performance. This type of stretching includes leg swings, arm swings, and walking lunges.
While static and dynamic stretching are both used to improve muscle and joint condition, each type of stretching should be used and modified depending on the activity planned. Timing of the stretch in relation to the main workout or activity should also be considered.
When to Use Static and Dynamic Stretching
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the timing of stretching because of contradicting studies. However, recent evidence generally suggests that dynamic stretching should be performed prior to a workout while static stretching should be done as part of the cooling down process.
Dynamic stretching has been recommended as part of a warm-up routine prior to a workout or sport because it mimics the movements used in these activities and has immediate positive impacts on physical performance. According to a 2018 study by Opplert and Babault, dynamic stretching leads to an increase in muscle temperature due to the repeated active contraction of the muscles, thus helping the warm-up process.
For static stretching, it is better done during cool down after a workout or athletic event as it helps relax the muscles and brings the body back to homeostasis. While static stretching has shown to improve flexibility and range of motion, its detrimental effect on power and strength performance has led to less use in warm-up routines for activities that require running and jumping. However, flexibility-requiring sports such as gymnastics and dance still benefit from warm-up routines that incorporate static stretching.
Impact on Workouts and Activities
Flexibility and Range of Motion
Flexibility and good range of motion are important in performing athletic events and activities of daily living. These two enhance mobility, muscle coordination, and posture while reducing the risk of injuries.
Most studies claim that both static and dynamic stretching increase flexibility and joint range of motion with more evidence supporting the benefits of static stretching for improving these two functions. The improved flexibility and range of motion observed for static stretching has been shown to be related to an increase in stretch tolerance rather than an increase in actual muscle length. However, when performed for an extended period of time (around 8 weeks or more), static stretching still proves to be beneficial for improving mobility.
Strength and Power Performance
Static stretching has been repeatedly associated with acute strength and power performance deficits especially in activities that require jumping and running. This is why static stretching has been avoided in pre-competition warm-up especially for sports such as track-and-field and basketball.
The detrimental effects associated with static stretching is said to be possibly caused by various factors including reduced neural activation and decreased musculotendinous stiffness that decrease the reaction time of the muscles. In particular, multiple studies have reported significant declines in rates of muscle activation, decreased musculotendinous stiffness, and increased musculotendinous compliance in long-duration (greater than 60 seconds) static stretching routines, all of which negatively impact strength and power performances.
Static stretching, however, can still be incorporated in warm-up routines, specifically short-duration (less than 60 seconds) static stretching activities. A 2019 study claims that short-duration static stretching only has trivial unfavorable risks on strength- or power-related activities when used during warm-up. This claim is supported by Palmer et al. (2019) who states that short-duration static stretching does not cause significant changes on muscle stiffness, thus maintaining the muscle’s capacity to generate force.
Oppositely, dynamic stretching results in a significant improvement in power output said to be brought about by an increase in body temperature during the activity. The increase in body temperature enhances conditions for metabolic reactions, thus improving muscle performance and reducing injury occurrence.
Risks of Stretching
While stretching provides various benefits to overall muscle and joint conditions, there are still risks that come with the activity when done improperly.
Overstretching occurs when a muscle is stretched past its threshold or its capacity for flexibility. This may happen in both static and dynamic stretching with some sources arguing that the former more often causes overstretching due to the amount of time that the muscle is held in a single position.
Other sources, however, claim that dynamic stretching is a more common cause of overstretching and recommend that static stretches be performed prior to dynamic stretches. Regardless of the more common cause for this injury, it is important to note that overstretching can be prevented by being mindful of the tension being placed on the muscles and joints.
The sensations felt when stretching progress from a localized warmth, followed by a burning sensation, then to a sharp pain. When the localized warmth is felt on the origin or insertion of the muscle, this signals that the muscle is already effectively stretched and should not go beyond this point. Any added tension will only cause discomfort and injury.
Some authors classify ballistic stretching as a type of dynamic stretching while others differentiate the two activities. Ballistic stretching involves bouncing and jerking movements that force a limb beyond its normal range of motion. This type of stretching is considered useless and may even lead to injury.
Ballistic stretching activates the stretch reflex due to the change in muscle length and velocity. This reflex is a function of muscle spindles which helps in avoidance of injury and in maintenance of muscle tone. When the stretch reflex is triggered, the muscle contracts in order to resist the change in muscle length. More sudden changes in length lead to stronger contractions. Thus, instead of elongating muscles and increasing flexibility during stretching, ballistic stretching causes muscles to tighten.
Static and dynamic stretching are both important parts of a well-planned workout having the main objective of improving muscle and joint condition but serving different purposes. All individuals may benefit from both types of stretching exercises; however, dynamic stretching has a better role in warm-up routines of power-requiring activities.
Static stretching, on the other hand, is better for cooling down, in general, as well as for warm-up routines of activities requiring flexibility. In order to optimize muscle and joint performance, an individualized approach to stretching should be taken with particular attention to timing, type of stretching, and type of activity.