Which one should you use—and when?
Stretching is critical to athletic performance and overall health—but there are a variety of ways to stretch and it turns out, the type and timing of a stretch can mean the difference between improving or impeding performance. If you want the most bang for your stretching buck, then it’s important to learn when to use which stretches.
There are two types of stretches—static and dynamic—and they both have value, if used properly.
When most people think of stretching, they think of static stretching—which refers to the typical reach-and-hold type of stretch, where you move into a stretching position and hold it for several seconds. Static stretching is effective for increasing range of motion and improving flexibility—which can ultimately improve athletic performance.
But there’s a catch: static stretching slows muscle activation for about an hour—meaning muscles react more slowly. That’s why it’s important not to perform any static stretches prior to a big workout or competition.
The bottom line: static stretching has immense value for building flexibility—but if you need to be on your A-game, save the static stretches for later. Once you’ve crushed the competition, you can take some time to recover and perform some static stretches.
Dynamic stretching involves active movement—specifically, moving your body through the motions that it will be experiencing during a workout or competition. If you watch runners on the track before the start of a race, you’ll see them bouncing through running drills. These are dynamic stretches.
Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching is appropriate before a workout or competition—and can actually improve performance. But of course, there’s a catch: the timing has to be just right. It’s important that no more than 10 minutes pass between the dynamic stretches and the event, otherwise muscles can cool down and become sluggish and athletic performance can be impaired.
The purpose of dynamic stretching is to warm up the muscles, elevate the body temperature and be ready to go. So, use dynamic stretches right before a workout or competition for the best results.