With the influx of many different stretching techniques, telling how you execute each one can be quite challenging. There may be as many types of stretches as there are different levels of flexibility among people.
Although plenty, we can classify all of them into two. They’re either dynamic, meaning they involve motion, or static, wherein there is zero motion present.
The following are the different types of stretching techniques for improving flexibility:
- Dynamic Stretching
- Ballistic Stretching
- Active Stretching
- Passive Stretching
- Static Stretching
- Isometric Stretching
- PNF Stretching
Dynamic stretching involves moving your body parts to increase their reach, movement speed, or both. It consists of controlled arm and leg swings that let you know your range of motion limits.
Unlike static stretching, dynamic stretching involves continuous movement patterns that simulate the exercise or sport that you will compete in or perform.
An excellent example of dynamic stretching is a sprinter doing long strides in preparation for an upcoming race.
Ballistic stretching is usually incorporated in athletic drills and uses repeated bouncing movements to stretch your targeted muscle group. This technique uses your moving body or limb’s momentum as you attempt to force them beyond their normal range of motion.
The bouncing movements usually trigger the stretch reflex and may increase the risk of injury. However, you can still perform this stretch if done from low-velocity to high-velocity, preceded by static stretching.
This type of stretching is also known as static-passive stretching. When performing a passive stretch, you assume a particular position and hold it with another part of your body, a partner’s assistance, or an apparatus.
One good instance is when you bring your leg up high and use your hand to hold it in that position. Splits are also under passive stretching, in which case the floor is the apparatus you use to maintain the extended position.
Passive stretches are effective in relieving muscle spasms that are healing post-injury. (As a precautionary measure, always seek the advice of your doctor first before attempting to stretch the injured muscles.)
Further, passive stretching is an integral part of your post-workout routine as it helps reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.
Static stretching is the most common among the types of stretches. While it’s quite common for people to interchange passive and static stretching, there’s a significant distinction between them. Passive stretches involve an external force to bring your joints through their range of motion while you’re in a relaxed state. Meanwhile, static stretching involves stretching a muscle or group of muscles to their farthest point and then holding or maintaining that position for 30 seconds or more.
There are two types of static stretches, namely:
- Active – wherein you apply an additional force for greater intensity, and
- Passive – wherein an external body adds force (either a partner or an apparatus) to increase intensity.
Isometric stretches fall under the category of static stretching. They involve the resistance of muscle groups through tensing (isometric contractions) of the stretched muscles. While you aren’t to perform them more than once per day, isometric stretches are the most effective way to increase your static-passive flexibility. Static-passive flexibility is your ability to assume extended positions and maintain them using your weight, the support of your limbs, or other apparatus). They’re proven to be more effective than either active or passive stretching alone.
Isometric stretches also come in handy when you want to develop the strength of your tensed muscles (which helps enhance static-active flexibility) and decrease the level of pain associated with stretching.
The most common ways to perform isometric stretching are: applying resistance to one’s limbs manually, having a partner apply the needed resistance, and using a wall for resistance. You begin the routine by assuming the position for the static stretch. Afterward, you need to tense the stretched muscle for 10-15 seconds while resisting some force by a wall or partner. At the home stretch of the routine, relax the muscle for a minimum of twenty seconds and then repeat.
An excellent example of an isometric stretch is to let your partner hold your leg up as you try to force your leg back to the ground.
Among the types of stretches, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is the fastest and most effective way to increase your static-passive flexibility. Although it’s not really stretching, rather a technique of combining passive and isometric stretching to achieve maximum static flexibility. Originally, therapists used PNF as a method to rehabilitate stroke patients.
In general, PNF refers to post-isometric relaxation stretching procedures in which you passively stretch a particular muscle group. These muscles will then contract isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position. Finally, they are again stretched, but this time passively, through the resulting increase in their range of motion.
PNF stretches usually require a partner to provide resistance against isometric contraction and later on take the joint passively through its increased range of motion.
The most common PNF stretching methods are as follows:
One PNF technique that triggers the reflex is the hold-relax method. It involves putting a muscle in a stretched position (passive stretch) and maintaining that hold for a few seconds.
Another is contracting the muscle without moving (isometric stretch). An excellent example of this is when you push gently against stretches without moving. Once this happens, you trigger your reflex and a 6-10 second window of opportunity for a stretch that’s beyond the regular presents itself.
Lastly, the hold-relax method also involves relaxing the stretch and then go at it again while exhaling. This subsequent stretch should be deeper than the first.
Another common PNF technique is the contract-relax stretch. It’s nearly identical to the hold-relax method, except the muscle contracts while moving instead of doing so without movement.
Also referred to as isotonic stretching, a good example of this technique is the hamstring stretch. It requires the assistance of a trainer who provides resistance as you contract the muscle and push your leg down to the floor.
The third PNF technique is hold-relax-contract. It is similar to hold-relax, but instead of relaxing into a passive stretch after making the push, you actively push into it. For instance, in a hamstring stretch, incorporating this technique involves engaging the muscles to raise your leg further as your trainer pushes in the same direction.
Experts recommend that you perform only one PNF method per muscle group stretched in one stretching session. Regardless of your preferred technique, PNF works well on most muscles to enhance their flexibility and improve their range of motion. You may also modify these stretches so you can perform them on your own or with a partner.
The main takeaway that we can get from knowing the different types of stretches is that there isn’t only one way to stretch. What works for others may not have the same effect on you.
That is why it’s best to understand the main types of stretching and their corresponding benefits to figure out the hand-in-glove fit for you and your goals.