Perhaps one of the most hotly contested ideas in the fitness industry is the idea of static stretching versus dynamic stretching and which is better. Some fitness professionals swear by static stretching and won’t do anything else. Others wouldn’t perform a static stretch if they got paid to do it. So which is better, static or dynamic? The answer is probably some combination of both.
When discussing static stretching, it refers to the act of lengthening a muscle and holding it for an extended amount of time. Think sit and reach from gym class, but holding the reach for 30-40 seconds. Static stretching is incredibly effective at lengthening muscle fibers and improving flexibility. However, it can have a negative effect on performance if done prior to an exercise. Think of it like this: there are many stretch sensors in your muscle. Upon initial stretch, these sensors send a signal to contract and limit the stretch to prevent injury. To get an effective static stretch, your body must overcome that reaction, and essentially “shut off” the muscle. In essence you are putting your muscles to sleep in order to get an effective stretch. So static stretching good at improving flexibility, maybe not so good at improving performance.
In contrast, when looking at dynamic stretching, it is the act of moving your body to create a stretch. Ever watched a sprinter warm up and they are swinging their legs back and forth? That’s dynamic stretching. Or even simple arm circles count as dynamic stretching. This type of stretching is very effective at “warming up” a muscle group and preparing it to perform. However it is not quite as effective at lengthening muscle fibers as a static stretch. If done incorrectly, it can also result in injury due to using momentum to push past your body’s ability level.
So which is better? The simplest answer is both! Prior to exercise, perform some basic dynamic stretches to prepare your body to work and wake your muscles up. After your workout session, perform some static stretching to help cool down and lengthen your muscle fibers.
For a full body dynamic warmup, check this one out from Men’s Fitness.
For post workout, here’s a great static stretching routine from Active.com