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Stretching: An Update

Stretching is a great way for our bodies to keep moving and prevent stiffness in joints and muscles. Stretching can increase our range of motion (ROM), maintain our activities of daily living and preserve muscle length for sports/activities. Stretching has been debated in regards to its efficacy and who it is most appropriate for. This article aims to discuss the idea of dynamic stretching vs static stretching for warm-ups before sport or exercise.

There are 4 different types of stretching including; dynamic, static, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and ballistic.

Dynamic stretching

Involves movement through range of motion that is repeated until a change is made in the length of the muscle. There are no isolated holds during the movement. It is a functional type of stretching that ideally replicates the movements of the activity or sport you’re about to engage in.

Dynamic stretching has been investigated to show positive benefits when completed as a warm-up before activity and over no stretching or static stretching. Studies have shown that this type of stretching has displayed significant improvements in ROM greater than that of static stretching. Interestingly, results have also demonstrated improvements in power, sprint, and vertical jump performance in a wide variety of populations. A rise in temperature associated with dynamic stretching has been suggested to reduce the viscous resistance of muscles and, as a result, promote tissue adaptability and flexibility.

The mechanism behind the capacity for stretching to improve performance are little understood. Neural and peripheral elements of the stretching mechanism have been propositioned. Dynamic stretches are recommended for all ages and populations to increase mobility and flexibility of our muscles and joints.

Static stretching

In contrast to dynamic stretches, static stretches is when the end-range position is sustained with the focus on one muscle group at a time. The best effects will be obtained by holding this position of maximal stretch for approximately 30 seconds to a minute, then repeated three to four times.

Research into static stretching has shown that it is an efficient way to increase ROM around a joint to keep us moving efficiently and out of muscular stiffness. Static stretching techniques can significantly reduce muscle-tendon unit stiffness and an elevate tolerance for stretch therefore, improving flexibility.

Studies have shown that static stretching can affect muscle performance by reducing its maximal voluntary strength, muscle power or evoked contractile properties after one session of static stretching. This is not to say that static stretching should be avoided, but it shows that performing static stretching may only benefit specific populations.

Static stretching is appropriate for all ages and populations with bearing in mind what kind of activity you’re planning on doing afterwards. To minimise the negative effects on performance, professionals should either avoid recommending statically stretching a certain muscle right before short-duration activities when that muscle is needed for maximal power such as sprinting or jumping.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching

PNF stretching works to increase joint ROM by performing voluntary muscle contractions in combination with muscle stretch. This will encourage the muscular relaxation phase to lessen the reflexive elements that trigger muscle tightening. PNF stretching was originally used to treat neuromuscular paralysis patient’s but is now commonly used to help treat conditions of all populations. There are three types of PNF stretching techniques, contract relax, reversal hold relax, and hold relax. It is recommended that there be a 10 second push/hold phase of active movement followed by a 10 second relax/stretch phase repeated up to three times for best results.

Studies comparing the PNF technique to static or no-stretching, demonstrated significant short-term gains in hip, shoulder and hamstring ROM for both sexes and of all ages. Conclusions indicate that an “active” PNF stretching approach, such as using a shortening contraction of the opposing muscle to set the target muscle on stretch and then a static stretch of the target muscle, produces the best improvements in range of motion.

Ballistic stretching

Ballistic stretching uses active muscular effort and rhythmic, “bouncing” type movements to approach a joint’s ultimate range of motion repeatedly with the goal of actively warming up the muscle and connective tissue and increasing ROM. Because it is more complex, ballistic stretching is not suitable for everyone. As a result, only more experienced athletes, dancers, sports players, or those with a great deal of experience should use it respectfully.

Studies have highlighted after a bout of ballistic stretching can increase ROM and muscle tendon unit (MTU) stiffness. It is believed that ballistic stretching preserves neuromuscular excitability, while static stretching has been exhibited to decrease stretch reflex sensitivity and motor unit activation. One study involving athletes looked at static vs ballistic stretching for hamstring length. They found that after 6 weeks of ballistic stretching, hamstring flexibility improved in athletes with tight hamstrings better than static stretching. Although it’s important to keep in mind these results cannot be transferred to all populations.


All types of stretching have their benefits for certain population types and sports, if you’re still unsure what type of stretching will benefit you, you can talk to your physiotherapist in regards to which stretching technique can be of most value to you.


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