Workout applications for static versus dynamic stretching is more than just yoga poses or ballistic movements like windmills. Of course, neither of these is a completely accurate understanding of flexibility training applications. Here, we define static and dynamic stretching, present the benefits, and discuss workout applications. This discussion relates to principles in exercise science. This is the study that fitness professionals use to have rewarding careers helping others work toward healthy living.
WHAT IS STATIC STRETCHING?
Static stretching is the gentle lengthening of a muscle. The muscle is lengthened to a point of slight discomfort, but no pain, and held for a duration. Practiced with consistency, static stretching creates micro-tears in muscles which improve flexibility.
Breathing is key in exercise. It helps eliminate waste products from metabolism and oxygenate the muscles. The same is true while stretching. Taking long, even breaths oxygenates the brain and muscles to ease stress and increase blood flow. It also helps clients sink deeper into the stretch. Therefore, one shouldn’t hold their breath during a stretch, but “breathe into it.”
Static stretches focus on one muscle or muscle group, for example, the glutes or hamstrings. To get the most out of static stretches, they should be done slowly. Movements should be fluid, not jerky or exaggerated.
A key benefit of static stretching is the mind-body connection. Therefore, it’s important to feel the stretch and how the body reacts to it. And, give attention to both the left and right sides of the body. Is one muscle more flexible than the other? Does one side of the body feel more resistant or “tight?”
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU HOLD A STATIC STRETCH?
Maintain each static stretch position for at least 10 seconds. As one becomes more flexible, advance flexibility by holding the stretch for longer or by lengthening the muscle further during the same 10 seconds. Physical therapists sometimes recommend stretches be held for up to 90 seconds. But stretch duration depends on the individual and on any problem areas they may have.
THE BENEFITS AND RISKS OF STATIC STRETCHING
Static stretching should be an integral part of the warm-down. It helps the body shift comfortably from exercise to rest.
These are the benefits at the end of the workout from static stretching:
- Less post-workout muscle stiffness and pain
- Better flexibility, speed, and strength
- Improved range of motion
- Less lactic acid- fewer cramps
- Lower stress levels
- Lower injury or injury prevention
WHEN ELSE SHOULD YOU DO STATIC STRETCHING?
Static stretching has clear benefits when done after a workout. But what about before a workout? Pre-workout static stretches used to be a mainstay in school gym classes.
Starting physical activity with only static stretching isn't good. It can cause injury or muscle fatigue prior to athletic performance. It is better to have an active warm-up followed by static stretching. A brisk walk is an example of an active warm-up. Alternatively, static stretches can be the star of a mobility workout. Begin with some light, muscle-warming activity first and keep the flow going with static stretches of every major muscle group.
Proper form is crucial or stretching can become harmful rather than beneficial. The key is to listen to the body. There should be slight discomfort and the moment past mild discomfort or pain, there’s increased injury risk.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF STATIC STRETCHES?
Below are lower body static stretching examples. For the abdomen and chest, consider doing a cobra or the similar 'upward dog' yoga pose. There are other static stretching exercises for the upper body, including triceps, wrist, and lat stretches.
For this common hamstring stretch, sit on the ground and extend the left leg straight out. Bend the right knee so the right foot rests against the inside of the left leg. Lean forward and try to get as close as possible to touching the left toes with the left hand. Hold for 20 seconds. The stretch should be felt where the left thigh meets the ground.
Switch sides and repeat for the right leg. Some iterations involve bending the right leg behind the body. But this can be tough on the knees and is contraindicated in most cases.
For this popular quad stretch, begin by standing up straight. Lift the left leg and bend it back. Take hold of the foot with the left hand. The heel should touch the buttocks and the knee should point towards the floor. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
If necessary, hold onto something for balance. This stretch will be felt on the front/top of the left thigh. Switch sides and repeat to stretch the right quadriceps.
For this glute stretch, lay down close to a wall. The body should be perpendicular to the wall, not parallel. Lift the right leg and rest the right foot against the wall, bending 90 degrees at the knee. The lower part of the right leg should be parallel to the floor. Now raise the left leg and place the left ankle on the right knee. Move closer to the wall to feel a stretch in the left buttock. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then change legs.
WHAT IS DYNAMIC STRETCHING?
Dynamic stretching includes warm-ups before an intense exercise session to gradually elevate your heart rate. The body needs to get used to moving after a period of relative inactivity. Warm-ups are meant to ease the body into a faster pace or higher intensity activity. This is where dynamic stretching comes in.
Dynamic stretching should be included early on in a workout. Dynamic stretching involves movements that engage more than one muscle group. These stretches build up to a full range of motion. Think arm circles or walking lunges that get bigger as your muscles become more pliable. Dynamic flexibility and stretches can be functional and targeted to a specific sport to improve athletic performance. Or they can act as effective prep for a general workout for recreational physical performance.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STATIC AND DYNAMIC STRETCHING?
Compare a butterfly groin stretch and leg swings. The former involves stillness and a focus on posture. The latter is a repetitive movement through the air where the range of motion progressively increases. Think of static stretches as muscle holds and dynamic stretches as a flurry of activity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS AND RISKS OF DYNAMIC STRETCHING?
Dynamic stretches ready the muscles for more strenuous work. Do the same dynamic stretches before and after a workout to see a marked difference in the arc of joint motion. Dynamic stretches also help with agility and acceleration.
Just as with static stretches, hurried dynamic stretches give rise to sprains and muscle lesions. It's best to avoid dynamic movements if a client is already injured. The only exception is if a physical therapist has cleared the client for dynamic stretches or includes them in rehab.
Older adults above the age of 65, or those with health issues, may need to avoid dynamic stretching too. Dynamic stretches can place additional strain on joints and the discs in the back.
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