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What You Need to Know About Static and Dynamic Stretching

By Martha Michael

The Difference in Stretching

As a dynamic duo, there are two kinds of stretches contributing a strength of their own to your fitness program. Dynamic stretching improves your mobility and serves as a good warm-up to athletic activities. Static stretches are often a part of an athletic practice and serve to loosen muscles to decrease soreness. They both have merit -- one prepares you for action and the other relaxes your muscles.

Dynamic Stretching

To lower the chance of injury, many athletes prepare for the court, the field, or the mat with a warm-up that includes dynamic stretches. A typical practice includes a series of active movements bringing your joints and muscles into a full range of motion. According to an article in Healthline, dynamic stretches get the body moving and warmed up by mimicking the motions that the athlete utilizes while engaging in the sport. For instance, a swimmer competing in the butterfly stroke may do arm circles in preparation for a meet.

Some of the most common dynamic stretches are lunges, leg swings, trunk twists, and arm circles. As the name implies, dynamic stretches involve movement, not the periods of holding your body in place, which is the definition of a static stretch.

Typically used before an exercise session, dynamic stretches are helpful before the following activities.

Cardiovascular exercise - If you participate in boot camp or swimming, begin with dynamic stretches to warm up muscles in advance. You lower the chance of injury.

Weightlifting - You gain power in your legs through dynamic stretching, which improves your performance.

Athletics - When your sporting events involve jumping and running, you minimize the chance of injuries with pre-game stretches. Athletes in such sports as basketball, soccer, and track rely heavily on dynamic stretching.

You do not need to make dynamic stretching a part of your cooldown process. Because the movement involved raises your core temperature, it actually reverses the purpose of your post-workout routine. Static stretches are a better element for the cooldown.

Static Stretching

Loosening your muscles through extending and holding the same position helps lower the chance of injuries and offers benefits as a post-workout exercise. According to an article on Active.com, regular static stretching serves to:

  • Increase range of motion
  • Improve flexibility
  • Relieve stress
  • Reduce the effects of connective tissue lesions

It requires a short period of time -- just 5-10 minutes can be effective. Begin by holding stretches for 15-20 seconds and after a couple of rounds, as you gain flexibility, hold them longer. Also, be sure to stretch equally on the right and left sides of your body.

Static stretches for shoulders include overhead reaching, which loosens your triceps as well. You can stretch your lower body with a seated butterfly pose, which targets your groin and thighs, and follow it up with a hamstring stretch -- place one leg straight out in front of you and reach forward to your toes.

Activities That Include Stretching

There are many forms of exercise that benefit from pre-workout stretching for maximum flexibility, including:

  • Martial arts
  • Gymnastics
  • Wrestling
  • Figure skating
  • Snow skiing
  • Fencing
  • Diving
  • Swimming

Stretching is a great way to acquire high levels of flexibility and certain physical activities offer that benefit.

Yoga

If you participate in any form of martial arts, you may already be familiar with the value of stretching. Yoga is an ancient practice at the root of many martial arts programs. An article by Yoga International explains that various yoga poses involve stretching.

The arching and lowering of your back in the cat-cow movement is an example of dynamic stretching within the yoga practice, as are poses involving squats, twists, and lunges. Shifting from tadasana, or mountain pose, to an upward salute also involves dynamic stretching as the arms move from pointing downward at your sides to straight above your head.

Most yogis employ numerous static stretches, as one of the mainstays of the practice is holding positions for several seconds at a time. There are poses, such as the forward fold, which are held for several breath lengths. Studies show that static stretching when combined with foam rolling leads to greater flexibility and an improved range of motion, the article says.

Kung Fu

Dynamic stretching is an effective warm-up for a Shaolin practice, according to a blog by Chinese martial arts master Shifu Yan Lei, who trained at the Shaolin Temple in Henan province. Lei designed a program involving features he calls Five Fundamental Kicks and Five Fundamental Stances which open hips and warm up leg muscles. There are five angles that a Shaolin fighter employs when kicking, which makes hip flexibility as important as any other part of the body. The kicks incorporate dynamic and static stretches for optimum flexibility and provide power for punching, kicking, and running. Lei recommends static stretching after a martial arts workout to reduce the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles and lower your chance of experiencing stiffness.

Pilates

Another form of physical fitness involving muscle strength, flexibility, and endurance is Pilates, which is a 100-year-old practice originally called “contrology.” It is a low-impact exercise program using controlled positions that sometimes do not cause noticeable effects until a day later, says an article in Self Magazine. Pilates involves machines with springs or bands that employ your own weight as resistance for you to build strength. It works multiple body parts at once.

“Pilates stretches, strengthens, and aligns your body all at the same time,” says Carrie Samper, national Pilates training manager at Equinox. “With that said, it also complements every other fitness endeavor because it prepares your body to move better in every way. Adding it into your routine will help you lift heavier weights, run faster, swim with better form, or even achieve that elusive arm balance in yoga.”

Incorporating both static and dynamic stretches into your fitness program is a win-win -- you can double the fun and increase the positive outcome from your workout.

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