Stretching Techniques

Static, ballistic, active, passive, dynamic, PNF and fascial are all types of stretching techniques. How many have you heard of? Do you know the difference? Most people have heard of a few and are confused as to why there are so many as they just want to be flexible. Well today we are going to breakdown the basics of each type so hopefully you can be.

Stretching, Kettlebell, Medicine Ball, Child's Pose

Static Stretching

This is probably what you typically think of as stretching. It is the most common form of stretching and is typically held for a set period of time between 30-45 seconds. When performing this type of stretching you should only go just past the point you start to feel the stretch. If there is pain while doing this, back off, you are stretching too deep. If that happens you’ll cause your body to tighten up the very muscle you are attempting to stretch. Although this type of stretching is the most common form, ideally it should only be performed at the end of your workout. Static stretching is much less beneficial for improving flexibility, but it is important for maintaining the range of motion you already have. Also, it can be performed either actively or passively.

Active Stretching

This form of stretching is awesome. What you’re doing here is trying to activate the muscle in opposition to the one you desire to stretch. For example, if I wanted to stretch my hamstring I would flex my quad while keeping my hamstring relaxed. So, the opposing muscle (i.e. my quad) pulls the muscle I want to stretch (i.e. my hamstring) into the stretch. What’s great about this type of stretching is that it is very low risk. You’re in complete control of the amount of force you apply to the stretched muscle.

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching is only performed if you used outside assistance to achieve the stretch. This can be done by another person, a strap, a stretching machine or with leverage and your body weight. For example, stretching your calf is a common way people passively stretch. All you have to do is stand on the edge of a step and let your heel drop. Feel the stretch in your calf? Good, you are now passively stretching.

Ballistic Stretching

Simply put. DO NOT do this type of stretching without proper supervision. You are very likely to hurt yourself if it is done incorrectly. Ballistic stretching is basically the same as static stretching, but you attempt to bounce deeper into the stretch (i.e. force your body beyond its normal range of motion repetitively). It is very random and jerky in its movement. Well as you may already know or can guess…your body doesn’t like this. Instead of “loosening up” you will actually tighten up, just like when you go too deep in a static stretch.

Dynamic Stretching

Over the past several years dynamic stretching has become more and more common. This type of stretching achieved through a challenging, yet comfortable functional movement pattern. It is repeatedly done for a set distance or number of repetitions (typically 10 yards or 10 reps). Coordination is key through these patterns. If performed correctly, each pattern will engage a particular muscle group or groups in a very deliberate and controlled manner. This form of stretching is a fantastic way to warm up before activity as the motions performed are the same motions you will likely be doing in your activity or sport. As such, dynamic stretching routines have become common place as an initial warm up for many athletics teams.

PNF Stretching

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Whoa. Simply put, this is about using your body’s awareness of itself to achieve flexibility. There are several different types of PNF stretches. These stretches are more advanced and combine static, active, passive and dynamic techniques to achieve the ultimate goal of improved flexibility. Stay tuned for a future post and more information on these types of stretches.

Fascial Stretching

Last, but not least, fascial stretching. This is probably my favorite form of stretching as many people can really benefit from it. Fascia is dense connective tissue spread throughout the body. It holds us together, holds our muscles to our bones, our skin to our muscles, suspends our organs, etc. It is everywhere. And what science has begun to show is that like muscle, fascia can contract. So, like muscle, fascia can get tight and may need to be stretched. However, this form of stretching requires knowledge of the target fascia that needs to be stretched as the stretching positions aren’t always straightforward. Seeing a clinician who has experience in identifying fascial tightness and stretching is a good idea. Also it should be noted, that this form of stretching is more than just your good old foam rolling.

Curious about more information on stretching? Stay tuned for future posts, check out our post on yoga or shoot us an e-mail. We’d be happy to answer any of your stretching related questions.


1. Human Kinetics.

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