Stretching has gotten a mixed bag of reviews over the years because of a couple research studies that found static stretching may negatively impact your athletic performance. In this article, you’ll learn what the latest research says about whether or not stretching is good for you. We’ll also look at the different types of stretches and the best stretches to help you increase your flexibility quickly and efficiently.
Types of Stretches
Static Stretching: Static stretching is what comes to mind for most people when you talk about stretching. Static stretching is just as it sounds: you extend a particular muscle and hold the stretch in a “static” position for 30-60 seconds.
When You Should Do Static Stretches: I like to do static stretches every couple hours throughout my work day to loosen my muscles and joints. I also do them at night after I work out.
Dynamic Stretching: Dynamic stretching is when you stretch a muscle or group of muscles in a continuous motion. An example would be a martial artist warming up with a series of leg kicks, getting progressively higher with each kick.
When You Should Do Dynamic Stretches: Do dynamic stretches before a workout or when you’re warming up before playing a sport. Here’s an example of a dynamic stretching routine you can do.
Ballastic Stretching: Ballastic stretches are jerky, bouncy stretching movements. Proceed with caution on these types of stretches though, because bouncing as you stretch can actually tear your muscle tissue if you don’t do it right. This can make you less flexible and more prone to pain. But done under the supervision of a physical therapist or sports trainer, they may be particularly helpful for training and rehabilitation, according to a research study.
When You Should Do Ballastic Stretches: Only do ballastic stretches in a supervised setting with a licensed medical professional, unless you’re a highly-trained athlete.
PNF Stretching: PNF, or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, is another type of stretching you should only do with an experienced partner. It involves a series of isometric combined with static stretches. Here are some examples.
When You Should Do Ballastic Stretches: Only do PNF stretches in a supervised setting with an experienced training partner.
Benefits of Stretching
So you can see there are some risks associated with different types of stretches. But there’s no question in my mind that stretching is good for you. It can help:
- Increase your flexibility and range of motion.
- Make you less susceptible to sports-related injuries.
- Increase blood flow in your muscles.
- Help you feel looser and less tense.
What stretching may not do is increase your athletic performance.
Static stretching, in particular, has been the source of much debate. Some older studies have found that static stretching may actually inhibit your athletic performance. The most recent research says that holding a stretch for longer than 60 seconds may have a negative effect on your performance. But other research has found that static stretching for less than 60 seconds “doesn’t compromise maximal muscle performance.”
Another recent research study found that the ideal type of warm-up for any intense exercise session should consist of light aerobic activity, then general dynamic stretching, and finally sport-specific dynamic activities. The study authors went on to say that, “Sports that necessitate a high degree of static flexibility should use short duration static stretches with lower intensity stretches.”
So what does all this scientific lingo mean to you?? Here are the two key points to remember:
- Static stretching is good for you … when you do it at the right times. It won’t provide any benefit when you do it before a workout or sports session. And it may actually hinder your performance when you hold static stretches for more than 60 seconds. Reserve static stretching for during the course of a day when you feel stiff and after your workouts.
- The best type of warm-up for workouts and sports is doing light cardio combined with dynamic stretches.
Best Stretches to Increase Flexibility
Rather than try to explain my favorite stretches to increase flexibility fast, I thought it would be easier to show you some good YouTube videos. Here you go …
Hip Flexor Stretches
IT Band Stretches
Lower Back Stretches
Shoulder, Chest & Upper Back Stretches
Final Stretching Tips: Recap
- Only do static stretches after a workout … never before any type of activity. Instead, warm up with dynamic stretches or light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes.
- Don’t bounce. As I mentioned above, you can set yourself up for injury by doing this.
- Stretching shouldn’t be painful. When you hold a stretch, don’t strain to the point where you feel pain. Let your body ease into the stretch gently.
- Breathe and relax. I can’t overstate the importance of breathing properly and relaxing while you stretch. Let your body flow into each stretching movement. And inhale and exhale deeply through your nose as you hold each stretch.
- Try others methods of increasing flexibility. Check out the following two posts I wrote that will help you increase your flexibility with foam rolling and yoga:
Want More Tips on Getting Tight and Toned?
This article is #6 in my free 12-part tutorial called “Exercise 101: How to Get In Shape“.
Next up is article #7, which will walk you through some of the best home gym exercises.
Or you can go back to article #5 and read about my favorite 20-minute body weight workout routine.