I love a good stretch, but I don't love feeling confused about which kind of a stretch to do and when–which is easy to do when you're navigating the wild world of fitness advice. Because there are so many different types of stretches out there, I asked trainers so there's no guesswork as to what you should do and when.
- Jorden Gold, founder of Stretch Zone
While I prefer to have them guide me through a sequence, in reality, if I waited for a trainer to help me stretch, I might only stretch for a few minutes per week—at best—which is not ideal. For a definitive breakdown of all the different types of stretches, and when to do them, look no further than the guide below with advice from Gold. Bookmark this page for the next time you're feeling tight, but don't know where to start when it comes to stretching your bod.
1. Dynamic Stretching
When to do it: Before a workout
If you're feeling tight before a workout, dynamic stretches are the way to go. "This is a technique that involves the active movements of one’s joints and muscles as they go through a full range of motion," says Gold. These types of stretches are meant to help boost your performance by getting your body moving in the right direction, says Gold. Some common dynamic stretches are walking lunges, leg swings, and toe-to-hand touches.
Caveat: You still need to warm up before you do these since you don't want to stretch cold muscles, as trainer Holly Roser previously told Well+Good, cold muscles can tear more easily.
2. Static Stretching
When to do it: After a workout
"While dynamic stretches aim to get the body moving to boost performance, static stretches are intended to extend the muscles for a specific period of time," says Gold. Holding stretches and extending the muscles help them to relax. It also stretches your tendons, fascia, and nerves (which can sometimes result in muscle tingling). When you think about the type of stretches you want to do to aid recovery, static stretches can help since they can help reduce pain while boosting flexibility.
"Static stretching assists with alleviating strains. For instance, after a runner has completed their sprint or race, they can do kneeling and standing hamstring and Achilles stretches, holding the poses in place in order to relax their muscles," says Gold.
3. Passive Stretching
When to do it: During a cool down or when muscles are healing after injury (when cleared by your doc)
"Passive stretching, also referred to as relaxed stretching, which is key to enhancing one’s balance," says Gold. "Relaxed stretching is useful in relieving spasms in muscles that are healing after an injury." If you have an injury you should always ask your doctor first about if and how you can stretch the muscle or injured area.
"Passive stretching, or relaxed stretching, is very good for cooling down after a workout, helping to reduce post-workout muscle fatigue and soreness," says Gold.
4. Active-assisted stretching
When to do it: When you've reached your flexibility limit and need help
Assisted stretching is exactly as is sounds, having someone assist you in stretching further than you normally could on your own. Assisted stretching also applies to when you use a strap, resistance band, or towel to help deepen a stretch. Ideally, you have a professional who is trained in stretching to help. "Active-assisted stretching...is when the limit of one’s flexibility is reached, and the range of motion is completed with the help of a partner or stretch-strap," says Gold. You can do active-assisted stretching before or after a workout.
5. Ballistic stretching
When to do it: Almost never (only under professional supervision)
"Ballistic stretching involves stretching a specific muscle as far as possible based on comfort level. Once the end of the range of motion has been reached, the muscle or joint is forced a little further," says Gold. Word of warning: most experts don't recommend ballistic stretching since it's essentially forcing a stretch, which can lead to injury. "It should be performed carefully and, depending on the stretch, under the supervision of an expert. I only recommend this type of stretching unless one is well-trained in activities of high velocity," Gold says.
6. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
When to do it: Late in the day or when you don't have a workout later
"Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation is a combination of passive stretching and isometric contracting to achieve maximum static flexibility," explains Gold. Gold says PNF stretching can help you gain flexibility, strength, and improved joint stability.
"An example of PNF stretching, which also requires a partner, is when a stretched hamstring is isometrically contracted against a partner with less than maximum effort for approximately 15 seconds. Then, the partner slowly lengthens the hamstring by passively moving the extremity through its gained range of motion," says Gold. "PNF stretching puts reflexes to “sleep” and, like static stretching, should be performed late in the day or when no physical activity is planned."
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