Comparing Static versus Dynamic Stretching

In the first part of this blog about stretching & flexibility training, we discussed the barriers, the benefits, and the general guidelines to follow.  In this second part, we will discuss the different types of stretching, with a focus primarily on static and dynamic stretching.

The basic, fundamental stretch that is generally safe and effective for the majority of the population is static stretching; the traditional stretch that is ‘held’ for a short period of time.  In this type of stretch, a joint is taken to its end range and held until a change in tension is perceived.  From the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):  “Stretching can be defined as the systematic elongation of musculotendinous units to create a persistent length of the muscle and a decrease in passive tension…Static stretching involves slowly stretching a muscle to the end range of motion (point of tightness without invoking discomfort) and then holding that position for an extended period of time (usually 15-30 seconds).” (Source:  ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Ed., p. 159).  Consult part 1 of this blog for the general frequency and duration guidelines. 

Dynamic stretching on the other hand, involves stretching through active movement; quite fundamentally different than the traditional statically held stretches.  In this method of stretching, active movement is initiated to take a joint or many joints to their full range of motion through a controlled momentum.  In general, dynamic stretching is used by many athletes to simulate the functional movements required by their activity or sport.  This then provides a neurological stimulation and preparation for that specific activity, and can greatly enhance performance and prevent injuries.

I recall a research study performed years ago studying the effects of static/passive vs dynamic stretching with a number of football teams.  A select number of teams were instructed to perform static stretching while another number were instructed to perform dynamic stretching prior to their games.  What was discovered was that the group that performed static stretching prior to their games actually ended up causing more injuries.  Why?  Because, although effective for lengthening soft tissues, static stretching is more neurologically ‘calming’, and we certainly do not want a calming of our nervous systems (along with its subsequent tissue response) prior to a highly vigorous and competitive event.  Instead, we want our muscles and nervous system to be more on the ‘activated’ side (recall the sprinter who kicks out their hips & knees prior to the sprint or a swimmer who performs circles with their arms).  So in essence, dynamic stretching is more effective as a pre-activity ‘prep.’  Because the joints and muscles are taken through a range of movement, this enhances proprioceptive feedback, creating a ‘waking up’ of the musculoskeletal system. Once our bodies are more prepared for activity, this in turn can greatly reduce our risk of injury.  So in summary:  static stretching is employed best as a post-activity tool, while dynamic stretching is best employed as a pre-activity tool.  

There is one caveat however, when it comes to dynamic stretching.  Because of  its inherent movement-based nature, it is considered higher-risk when compared to static stretching.  From the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

“Dynamic stretching uses the momentum created by repetitive bouncing movements to produce muscle stretch. The strain in the muscle has a fast onset and the muscle tension reaches relatively high values.  There is a greater risk of strain injury because the muscle is not held at the higher tension to allow the time-dependent stress relaxation response to occur.  This type of stretch can result in muscle soreness or injury if the forces generated by the dynamic movements are too great.”

(Source:  ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Ed., p. 159).

The key message here is this:  If you choose to perform dynamic-type stretches, it is best to perform them conservatively; that is, execute them slow and controlled… and avoid ‘bouncing.’  The greater the speed or the more aggressively/ballistically that they are performed, the greater the risk of injury.  Be smart and be mindful by executing each dynamic stretch under your careful, conscious control.  If you can do this, then dynamic stretching can be highly effective.  Again from the ACSM:  “Flexibility exercises should be performed in a slow, controlled manner with gradual progression to greater ranges of motion.”

(Source:  ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 7th Ed., p. 159).

Happy stretching!

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DISCLAIMER: These posts should not be used to self-diagnose or self-treat any health, medical, physical or psychiatric condition. Information shared via posts does not replace professional healthcare advice specific to your condition and needs. If you are unsure whether you would benefit from implementing tools discussed in these posts, please contact your healthcare provider.