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This article discusses the different forms of stretching that are available, and how to perform each type of stretch in an effective and safe manner.

Types of Stretches

The literature recognises that there are six different forms of stretching. They are as follows:

  • Static stretching
  • Passive stretching
  • Dynamic stretching
  • Ballistic stretching
  • Isometric stretching
  • PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching
  • Each of these forms of stretching will be discussed below:

Static Stretching

  • This form of stretching is also known as static-active stretching.
  • It is the most common form of stretching and also one of the most effective forms.
  • In this form of stretching, the individual assumes a stable position and holds that position for a given period of time.
  • There is no assistance other than from the use of the antagonist muscle. In other words, the only muscle that contracts to help to complete the stretch is the muscle opposing the muscle being stretched. For example, if we are stretching the quadriceps, then the muscle being activated to do this is the hamstrings complex; thus, the hamstrings are the antagonist muscles.
  • Contracting the antagonist muscle during a static stretch helps relax the muscle being stretched by reciprocal inhibition. In other words and to put it simply using the same example as above, contracting the hamstrings muscles to a greater extent will result in a better quadriceps stretch.

Static Stretching Process

  • Gently take muscle to its end rage of motion
  • Hold for at least 20-30 seconds (this is because you must inhibit the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex causes involuntary contraction of a muscle in response to it being stretched. Thus, because we want to stretch out muscle, this reflex needs to be stopped).
  • Repeat process 3-5 times for each muscle

Passive Stretching

  • This form of stretching is also known as assisted stretching.
  • As the names suggest, this form of stretching requires assistance from another individual.
  • While this form is very effective, it is often not utilized by most people purely because you need another person to help complete it, thus it is not very practical.
  • Process: The individual should be relaxed and should make no contribution to range of motion
  • The assistant gradually and carefully eases the individual into the stretch position
  • The assistant then holds the individual in the stretch position for 20 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the individual’s level of muscular tightness and fitness

Dynamic Stretching

  • A stretch (or movement) where the target muscle is worked through its full range of motion.
  • This form of stretching is more often than not used in elite athletes more so than the amateur.
  • It improves dynamic flexibility and that is why it is used largely in high level sport.
  • While it can be very effective, it can also be quite dangerous so it should not be performed without caution.
  • Process: Move relevant joint through its range of motion with a gradual increase in its range of motion and speed of movement.
  • e.g. kick through / arm swings

Ballistic Stretching

  • This form of stretching uses momentum of the moving body part / joint.
  • It forces the target muscle/s beyond their normal range of motion.
  • Causes injury as muscle contraction occurs by activating the stretch reflex.
  • Can lead to injury to nerves and blood vessels and can also cause micro-tears within the muscle.
  • Not recommended!
  • It is used in certain sports where a large range of motion is required e.g. ballet, martial arts.
  • Process: Involves bouncing in and out of stretched position very fast before the muscle has had enough time to relax.

Isometric Stretching

  • This is a form of stretching which, unusually, is static i.e. it does not involve motion.
  • Involves resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (isometric basically meaning the muscle contracts but there is no motion).
  • The opposing force that is stopping the motion can be provided by assistance (i.e. another person) or by an inanimate object (i.e. a wall etc.).
  • This is a very effective way of developing increased flexibility when combined with active / passive stretching.
  • Can be very physically demanding (should only do 1-2 muscle groups at a time).
  • Also helps to develop resistance strength.
  • Process: Target muscle is contracted against an opposing force so that movement cannot be initiated
  • This position is then held for 20-30 seconds (with the muscle contracted throughout this time)

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

  • This relatively unknown form of stretching is often attributed to being the most effective stretching technique to increase range of motion and flexibility.
  • It requires an assistant and is not very well known outside elite sport and is therefore often only seen used in elite and high level athletes.
  • Process: Initial passive stretch of target muscle for 20-30 seconds
  • This is followed by an immediate isometric contraction against resistance for 5-10 seconds (i.e. the individual actively contracts the target muscle while the assistant resists this movement)
  • The stretch is then finished with another gentle passive stretch for 30 seconds
  • Repeat 3 times (20 seconds rest between sets)
These are the main forms of stretching that have been identified in the literature on the topic. While basic forms of stretching are adequate for most people, those who are seeking to try something different or those who feel that they are at a standstill in improving their flexibility may choose to incorporate some of these stretching forms into their workouts. Care should be taken when performing any of these forms of stretching as injury may result with improper form.
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