Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Static stretching is what usually comes to mind when we talk about stretching: get into position and hold. Current research shows that static stretches can actually decrease strength of contraction and agility due to a decrease in the stiffness of the muscle-tendon junction. This causes a delay in the response time of the stretch reflex. Though seemingly minute — as the difference is in fractions of a second — it may very well cost a sprinter a race, or a keep a dancer from nailing a landing or a turn. If your goal is strength and agility, static stretch is best done after a workout or exercise. Static stretching effects can be enhanced by the prior application of heating modalities such as moist heat or ultrasound.

Dynamic stretching, as the name implies, is movement based, going through the available range of motion. As the muscles and tendons involved are warmed up, the movement arc incrementally increases until the optimal — or even maximal — range of motion is attained. Research evidence is clear about the correlation between dynamic stretching and improved performance when this is done before a workout, exercise, performance, or sporting event. The simplest way to decide on how to do a dynamic stretch is to assess the movement demands of the task or sport one is about to engage in, and to do said movements repeatedly prior to the actual performance — and without load or resistance . For example, a tennis player would do well practicing sideways lunges and backhand swings before a match. Additional benefits of dynamic stretching include increased blood flow, retrieval of muscle memories from prior training and exercise, and overall neuropsychiatric and neurochemical priming of mind and body for the anticipated movements.

From my experience, I can simplify it down to this: static stretching works primarily on tendons, and are best done after an activity or exercise, while dynamic stretching works primarily on the muscles and are best done before an exercise or activity. If this is kept in mind, stretching can deliver enhanced movement and performance, and significantly decrease one’s risk for injury.

Here’s to smart stretching!