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The differences between dynamic and static stretching what to use and when

14th March 2017

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Warming up and cooling down are vital parts of any exercise regime and skipping these can result in stiffness afterwards and even injuries, as your body has not been prepared properly for the extra demands that you are placing on it.

Stretching is a beneficial part of any warm up and cool down programme and there are two different techniques that you can use - dynamic and static stretching. Both these forms of stretching are good for your body and help it to prepare for the exercise and recover afterwards, as well as maintaining flexibility in the joints and muscles.

However, there are differences in the two techniques, generally regarding when and how you should carry them out. If you want to learn about the differences between static and dynamic stretches and the benefits of each, then we will cover both of these here, as well as providing some examples of how to carry them out.

What is dynamic stretching?

This is a type of stretching that is typically used by athletes and others who want to get their body ready for a strenuous exercise routine. During a dynamic stretch, instead of keeping the stretch in one position for a length of time, you will move your muscles and joints repeatedly across a full selection of movements.

These stretches are good for minimising the risk of injuring yourself and they also help to improve the flexibility of your body. The movements that you will carry out when performing these stretches are aimed at replicating those that you’ll be making during the particular activity or sport. They are deliberate and controlled, so that your body understands exactly what you want it to do when you start exercising.

Carrying out dynamic stretches is beneficial when you’re warming up cold muscles to undertake a strenuous activity. The constant movement helps to build up heat throughout the muscles and joints and, as your heart rate increases and your muscles become looser, you will start to burn calories.

Dynamic stretching can involve a whole range of movements, and some examples you can use are high knee marching, arm circles, arm swings, walking lunges and easy swing kicks. This video shows a good warm up routine to boost hip mobility and focuses on the hamstrings, hip flexors, the groin and inner thigh. Carrying out 10 repetitions on each side will mobilise the muscles and increase the range of motion that you have, as well as improving coordination, balance and strength and increasing your heart rate.

What is static stretching?

Whereas dynamic stretches are more effective prior to running, cycling or performing other forms of exercise, static stretches are best performed at the end of your routine to cool yourself down and start to relax your muscles.

With a static stretch you will hold your muscle or joint in a certain position for a period of time, which places minimal stress on the body. The aim with this type of stretch is to relax the part of the body that you are holding in position and allow it to go further by itself.

Research on the benefits of static stretching show that it you hold yourself in position for between 30 and 60 seconds, you will increase the degree of flexibility that there is in the tissue. This is beneficial at the end of an exercise session, but if done beforehand, it can actually reduce the ability of the muscle to work in the right way and do more harm than good.

In order for a static stretch to work properly, you need to stretch the muscle until it starts to feel slightly uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t be in pain. Static stretches are safe when they are performed properly and will improve flexibility across the whole body. They can include seated hamstring stretches, quad stretches and hip stretches. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), you should hold a stretch for between 15 and 30 seconds and repeat each one three to five times.

This video tutorial highlights a five minute static stretching routine that you can carry out after a workout or simply to build up flexibility. It covers hamstring stretches, a butterfly groin stretch, lying hip stretch, lying quad stretch, calf stretch, shoulder stretch and triceps stretch, and you should repeat each one twice on both legs.

When is the most effective time to stretch?

Which stretches you do and when you carry them out can have an impact on how you perform during the exercise session. For instance, static stretches work most effectively when they are done at the end of an activity, as they reduce tension in the muscles and help to prevent soreness, by increasing your blood circulation and lengthening the muscle.

Before you start any form of exercise, it is best to carry out some dynamic stretches, as they prepare your joints and muscles to perform certain movements. As well as raising your heart rate and body temperature, dynamic stretching boosts the nervous system, so your brain can communicate with your muscles better and enable them to work more efficiently.

The long term benefits of stretching

Both dynamic and static stretching have benefits for your body in the short term, particularly in preparing for and recovering from exercise, but there are also long-term benefits of adding in regular stretching exercises to your routine.

Research that was published in 2008 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that those athletes who did daily dynamic stretches over four weeks had a significant improvement in their power, endurance, speed, strength, agility and flexibility, when compared to those who did a static warm-up.

There has also been research conducted into the benefits of doing daily static stretching exercises, and a 1997 study from Physical Therapy highlighted that doing muscle stretches every day and holding them for 30 seconds increased the range of motion and flexibility in a joint.

Tips for safe stretching

In order for your stretches to be effective and safe, you need to ensure that you’re doing them correctly each and every time.

It is best to avoid doing any static stretches when you have cold muscles and don’t do any jerking, bouncing or quick movements during a static stretch, as this could pull or tear a muscle.

When you are stretching, it shouldn’t be hurting you and if the stretch has become too painful, you should ease off a bit.

During a stretch, it’s important to continue breathing normally and not to hold your breath.

Make sure that your stretching routine is balanced, so that you’re covering the different muscle groups. You don’t have to do the same routine every time and it is helpful to vary the type of stretches you do, to prevent it becoming boring.

If you have a specific goal or you are training for a certain sport, it can be beneficial to tailor your stretching exercises to fit this aim. Therefore, think about the particular muscle areas that you will be using most and ensure that you focus on these to give them greater flexibility and support.

You need to pay attention to what your body is saying and recognise the natural limits that you have. If you start to feel any pains then adjust what you are doing accordingly.

Stretching isn’t just useful before or after exercising and the ACSM recommends that we all stretch at least twice a week. Those who have lost some of the flexibility in their joints are advised to stretch every day, as this will increase the range of motion again.

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