First let’s review a few important techniques and terms. Even if you’re familiar with stretching, it’s a good idea to double-check your knowledge of this information. Some of these terms are commonly confused and misused.
Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility. However, many experts consider static stretching much less beneficial than dynamic stretching for improving range of motion for functional movement, including sports and activities for daily living.
Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.
Note that dynamic stretching should not be confused with old-fashioned ballistic stretching (remember the bouncing toe touches from PE classes?). Dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth, and deliberate, whereas ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky. Although there are unique benefits to ballistic stretches, they should be done only under the supervision of a professional because, for most people, the risks of ballistic stretching far outweigh the benefits.
Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place. You don’t usually have to work very hard to do a passive stretch, but there is always the risk that the external force will be stronger than you are flexible, which could cause injury.
Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch. Active stretching can be challenging because of the muscular force required to generate the stretch but is generally considered lower risk because you are controlling the stretch force with your own strength rather than an external force.
Every stretch is static or dynamic and passive or active, as illustrated in the examples shown in table 1.1.