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The importance of stretching has always been known and is considered an essential practice for pre and post workouts and other sports to alleviate tight muscles . However, there are two different types of stretches, static and dynamic, and each may impact flexibility, athletic performance, and endurance differently. This article considers the differences between static vs dynamic flexibility.
Stretching can be a great way to increase your range of motion and improve blood flow. When you have a better range of motion, the exercises you undertake will become more effective resulting in an improvement to muscle strength.
Recent research showed that sport-specific dynamic stretching not only decreases muscle tension, it can also improve muscular performance. And post-exercise stretching may help reduce muscle soreness. By incorporating stretching as part of your post-workout routine you can also reduce recovery time potentially allowing you to train more frequently.
Both static and dynamic stretching have their unique benefits. However, what is the main difference between the two?
What Is Static Stretching?
Static stretching involves moving a joint as far as possible and holding it in that stretched position for a specific amount of time, usually around 30-60 seconds. This type of stretching may involve standing, sitting, or lying in a single position.
You can perform static stretches before and after a workout or sports activity. In recent years, static stretching has become less popular with physicians and trainers, who recommend dynamic stretching as a more beneficial type of stretching.
Static stretching may not be as popular as it used to be, but its benefits have been well-studied. As mentioned above, it’s the best form of stretching to increase your range of motion. At the same time, it has been found to impact power and performance negatively, especially when done for longer. Experts now suggest holding a stretching stance only for 15-30 seconds.
Aside from the disadvantages; it’s a good solution for cooling down after an intensive workout, as it can help prevent muscle stiffness by returning them to their pre-exercise length/position.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is the active movement of joints and muscles, where you would stretch specific muscle groups that are about to be worked. For example, before a squat session you may undertake quad specific stretches. When compared to static stretching, which are held for a longer period, they are only held for around a second or two.
It involves stretching with a full range of motion, usually repeated around 10 to 12 times. Dynamic stretching, mainly sport or activity-specific dynamic stretching, is similar to the exercise that will be performed. Those movements prepare the muscles for the activity, warming them up.
Dynamic stretches can help increase speed, flexibility, power, and performance. They can also increase muscle temperature whilst reducing stiffness, prepping them better for the activity.
A 2019 study exploring the impact of dynamic stretching on hamstring muscles found that it increased the range of motion and stretch tolerance while minimizing passive stiffness.
What’s more, dynamic stretching may reduce the risk of injury in competitive and recreational activities. As your muscles actively move during dynamic stretching, the blood circulation improves, and the muscle warms up. That in turn, increases flexibility and resistance.
Static vs Dynamic Flexibility
In terms of flexibility, both static and dynamic stretching can help. However, the former has garnered a somewhat bad rep over the recent past This is because multiple studies have shown that static stretches for longer durations may result in a decrease to strength.
In different studies, static stretching negatively impacted athletic performance. For instance, it decreased sprint durations for collegiate track and field athletes. Similarly, it reduced flexibility in soccer players, for both men and women.
In contrast, dynamic stretching increases muscle flexibility and power, which aids overall performance. With properly warmed-up and agile muscles, the chances of injury are significantly reduced. This is why dynamic stretching has become increasingly popular in the medical and sports communities.
That being said, static stretching may not be all bad. Researchers don’t believe that static stretching can have long-lasting negative impacts.
More importantly, sport-specific static stretching may be beneficial. A Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study found that sports-specific static stretching increased the range of motion more than dynamic stretching.
Static stretching has more of a relaxing impact as it increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system. Hence, it’s a more suitable type of stretching for cooldowns after activity.
Of the two, dynamic stretching has more benefits for both professional athletes and the general population. However, static stretching can also benefit if used for shorter durations and specific to the sport or activity about to be performed.
Examples of Dynamic Stretching
For better mobility and injury prevention, here are some examples of dynamic stretches:
Leg Swings or Leg Pendulums
Leg swings are easy to do and are suitable for pre-run stretches. Standing on one leg, swing your leg back and forth in a controlled manner. Keep your core tight to maintain posture and to prevent you arching your back. Repeat the movement with the other leg.
The forward and backward swinging motion gives this stretching exercise the name pendulum. It’s supposed to warm up your hamstrings and hip flexors.
To perform torso twists, stand with feet shoulder-width apart facing forward, and arms on the sides with a slight bend in the elbows. While keeping your feet still, twist the torso from side to side. Make sure only your upper half is moving. Avoid creating too much momentum as this may cause you to lose your balance.
This dynamic movement is good for spine mobility. It’s a versatile movement suitable for workouts at the gym, running, and many sports including baseball, hockey, football, and tennis.
Walking lunges is one of the best dynamic stretching movements to target leg and hip muscles.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms on the waist. Take a large step forward with one of your legs, bringing your knee parallel to your hips, and lower the knee of the other leg, bringing it almost to the floor without touching it. Pushing the back leg and foot, step forward and repeat the movement with the other leg. Keep your chest and head up and back straight throughout the movement.
Moving arms in a circular motion can provide a good stretch for shoulders and arms.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold out your arms to the side almost parallel with your shoulders. Move them in a clockwise circular motion, beginning with smaller circles and moving to larger ones. Repeat the motions anti-clockwise.
When Should You Use Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching exercises aren’t just for professional athletes. These stretches are suitable for preparing for any kind of physical activity, even walking. For sports or workouts, such stretching should be done before the main activity.
In addition to professional sports, dynamic stretching is also beneficial for weightlifters. Compared to static stretching or no stretching, it can improve performance, allowing weightlifters to maximize effort and push through any plateaus.
Similarly, it can also be done before cardio, for example, before running, cycling, or swimming.
Benefits of Combining Both Static and Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching has more benefits and no drawbacks compared to static stretching. However, in light of recent research, the best approach is combining both stretching types where appropriate.
Firstly, it’s best to perform sport-specific stretches, whether static or dynamic.
Secondly, static stretches can be used after exercise or sports to help relax and cool down the muscles. As mentioned above, there’s no need to maintain a static stretching position for half a minute as 10 to 15 seconds would suffice.
As for pre-activity stretching, dynamic movements can provide the best warm-up for different muscles. Make sure to target the appropriate muscle groups that will be utilized during the activity.
Adults over 60 should be careful with dynamic stretches and seek professional guidance before undertaking such movements. Similarly, individuals with pre-existing injuries that impact their joints or muscles should exercise caution and consult a doctor before including any stretching in their routine.