Is stretching worth it?

There are many benefits to regular stretching. It's an important factor influencing physical condition, improving posture, reducing stress and muscle pain, improving blood circulation, increasing muscle strength, reducing tension in the whole body, minimizing the occurrence of injuries, as well as being a form of relaxation and stress relief. 

Regular stretching can help reduce the risk of injury. However, it's worth remembering that it must be done in a thoughtful manner. Otherwise, stretching may do us more harm than good.

Stretching techniques

There are several stretching techniques, including:

  • dynamic,
  • static,
  • active,
  • passive,
  • ballistic,
  • isometric,
  • PNF.

The most common forms of stretching are dynamic and static. Each has a different application and gives different results.

The types of stretching can be divided into dynamic (involving motion) or static (not involving motion). Dynamic stretching affects the dynamic flexibility of the muscles, while static stretching affects the static flexibility (and to some extent dynamic flexibility).

Dynamic stretching

Dynamic stretching is based on moving muscle groups and increasing the range, speed of movement, or both in a gradual and controlled manner. It's used to warm up muscles, joints and ligaments. Its main task is to improve mobility, prepare the body for the range of motion in the joints and activate large muscle groups. In addition, it has a positive effect on the dynamics of movement, strength, as well as flexibility of muscles. In this type of stretching, there are no bouncing or jerking movements. After reaching the maximum range of motion in the joint in any direction, further stretching should be stopped. From then on, it will be ineffective due to muscle fatigue. Thanks to kinesthetic memory, the body will adapt to the range of motion achieved, which must be overcome in the next stretching session in order to make further progress. Examples of dynamic stretching are: Leg Swings, Arm Swings or Torso Twists.

Dynamic stretching is ideal as a form of warm-up before training, or active aerobic training (e.g. dance classes or martial arts), because dynamically stretched muscles will be ready to exercise and perform strong contractions without risk of injury. Failure to do so may lead to excessively fast entry into too intense a range of motion, which in turn may lead to injury. For this reason, dynamic stretching, performed as part of the warm-up, should be carried out gradually, and care should be taken to progressively activate the tissues before entering the phase of greater range of motion.

Static stretching

Static stretching consists of stretching the muscles in a resting state to its farthest point, making slow, smooth movements, maintaining that position, and then relaxing. Examples of static stretching include: Seated Hamstring Stretch, Standing Quadriceps Stretch or Standing Shoulder Stretch.

Static stretching takes much longer than dynamic. It can be safely used after training as a form of muscle relaxation, elimination of contractures, increasing flexibility, reducing post-training fatigue and muscle soreness.

Active stretching

Active stretching, also called static-active stretching, is based on holding a stretching position only with the help of the active contraction of the muscle making a specific movement (agonist) in order to stretch the opposing muscle (antagonist). The effect of stretching is stronger the more agonistic muscles are contracted. The tension of the agonists during active stretching helps to loosen the antagonists through a reciprocal inhibition mechanism. 

Performing active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens agonist muscles. The exercises within its scope are relatively difficult, because it's difficult to maintain the correct position for longer than 10-15 seconds, and this duration should rarely be exceeded. An example of active stretching is to raise your leg until you feel the full stretch and hold it up, using only the leg muscles.  Many yoga poses are also examples of active static stretching.

Passive stretching

Passive stretching, also referred to as relaxed stretching or static-passive stretching, comes down to maintaining a stretching position of the relaxed muscle with the use of external force, affecting the performance of the movement in a given range of motion in the joint. This can be done with the help of a partner, with the help of your own body or using the given apparatus (ex. wall, floor, railing). Examples of passive stretching are the Splits or lifting your leg as high as possible and using some assistance to keep it elevated, either with the use of your own hands or with the help of a training partner. 

Passive stretching is great as a post-workout exercise, as a means to “cool down” the muscles and help reduce post-workout fatigue and muscle soreness. It should be performed for more than 30 seconds to properly relax the muscles. In addition, it's very good for relieving spasms of muscles that heal after an injury. A very important aspect is the fact that static stretching is not suitable for use as a warm-up before training. However, it's worth to introduce on non-training days, because it's beneficial to increasing the regenerative processes, as well as getting rid of soreness and DOMS more quickly. In addition, people who need rehabilitation and have postural defects should dedicate their time to it. 

Ballistic stretching

Ballistic stretching is considered the least safe type of stretching, and it can even lead to injury. At first glance, it's similar to dynamic stretching, but is characterized by a different ruleset. This type of stretching uses the momentum of the given body part to achieve a greater range of motion than normal. It's a kind of stretching that stretches or warms the muscles by “bouncing” (or lowering) into a stretched position, and coming out of it using stretched muscles acting as a spring which pulls you out of the stretched position. An example of ballistic stretching is when you bounce down repeatedly to touch your palms to your toes.

Ballistic stretching gives the impression of an increased range of motion, but it's not an effective method of stretching. This is due to the fact that receptors located in muscles act on reflex and instead of relaxing, contract instead. And so, the muscle placed in a stretched position, contracts uncontrollably. This, in turn, leads to microtrauma to the muscle fibers and a reduction in myofascial flexibility. In addition, rapid deepening movements contribute to an uncontrolled response to stretching, as well as a complete inability to relax the muscles. Extra caution should be taken when using this technique.

PNF stretching

The PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) method is based on the neuromuscular patterns of the given muscle groups to improve flexibility. It's the most effective method for increasing static-passive flexibility. In practice, it's not a single type of stretching, but a technique that uses two types of stretching: passive and isometric. Initially, PNF was developed as a rehabilitation method to help treat, among others, stroke survivors. Its main task is to raise the highest functional level for patients with paralysis. In this method, muscles are passively stretched, then isometrically stretched in certain positions, and then passively stretched again, leading to an increased range of motion. 

You can do it yourself, although it's better to use a partner for this type of stretching, whose task is to create resistance and increase the range of stretching. Typically, most techniques of this method use isometric agonist tension, in which stretched muscles are tensed in an isometric manner and then relaxed. Some techniques also use the isometric tension of antagonists. It's always crucial that the muscles subjected to stretching are relaxed and rested for a minimum of 20 seconds before implementing another stretching technique. Due to its complexity, PNF assumes that the human body should be treated as a whole, not individual parts. This method is based on three-dimensional movement patterns. You shouldn't use is after doing heavy strength training because it puts too much strain on the central nervous system (CNS).

The following PNF techniques are distinguished:

  • the hold-relax (HR)

After assuming an initial passive stretch position, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds, then briefly relaxed for 2-3 seconds, and then immediately subjected to a passive stretch for 10-15 seconds, which stretches it even more than the initial passive stretch. The muscle is then relaxed again for 20 seconds before the next PNF technique is performed.

  • the contract-relax (CR)

It consists of performing two isometric contractions: first of agonists, then antagonists. The first part is similar to the hold-relax method, where after an initial passive stretching, the stretched muscle is isometrically contracted for 7-15 seconds. Further, the muscle is relaxed and its antagonist immediately performs an isometric contraction that is held for 7-15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds before the next PNF technique is performed.

  • the contract-relax antagonist contract (CRAC)

This technique actually involves the use of dynamic or ballistic stretching in conjunction with static and isometric stretching. This method is very risky, and is successfully used only by the most advanced athletes and dancers who have managed to achieve a high level of control over the stretching reflex. It's similar to the hold-relax technique, except that dynamic or ballistic stretching is used instead of the final passive stretch.

Isometric stretching

Isometric stretching allows you to develop static-passive flexibility as quickly as possible, much faster than when using passive or active stretching. It's a subtype of static stretching, which uses the resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles. It also helps build strength in tense muscles, as well as reducing pain that usually occurs when stretching. Typically, the resistance produced to an isometric stretch is placed on one's limbs by hand, with the participation of a partner, or with the use of a specific apparatus. An example of isometric stretching is holding the leg straight up while the partner tries to return the limb back to the floor or "push the wall" while stretching the calves. 

Isometric stretching should be performed by assuming a passive stretching position for the given muscle, tensioning the stretched muscle for 7-15 seconds (sometimes longer), and then relaxing it for at least 20 seconds. As with PNF stretching, an isometric stretching session puts a heavy strain on the muscles and therefore shouldn't be used more than once a day for a given muscle group, and preferably not more than once every 36 hours. Performing isometric stretching is not recommended for children and adolescents as their bones are still growing. These people are usually so flexible that strong isometric contractions will significantly increase the risk of damage to tendons and connective tissue.

Stretching before training

Scientific research has proven that static stretching before training doesn't increase the effectiveness of training. There have been many experiments on cyclists, bodybuilders, strength athletes, runners and untrained people regarding the effects of static stretching on injury prevention. The conclusions were the same in each of the studies conducted. It turned out that static stretching doesn't reduce the risk of injury, and may even increase it. This is because it calms the muscle and makes it weaker by prolonging the contraction phase. Achieving such a state is definitely not recommended before training, when the muscles must maintain full strength and the ability to effectively respond to signals from the nervous system.

Dynamic stretching should be used before training. It's similar in some respect to actual training, but most of all it's characterized by a much lower intensity. Dynamic stretching should be started slowly and gradually increased in intensity.


There are many types of stretching, each with different benefits. It's worth introducing stretching into your routine, keeping in mind that each type should be performed in its own specific time and place. Before training, dynamic stretching will be perfect, being a form of a warm-up, while after the end of the training unit or on rest days, static and passive stretching will be a great way to achieve faster tissue regeneration. On non-training days, an active stretching session can also be successfully performed. In order to achieve the fastest possible progress in static-passive elasticity, it's worth using isometric stretching. On non-training days, you can also perform an active stretching session. The more demanding ballistic stretching should be performed with great care, while PNF stretching is used as a form of rehabilitation.

Each of these types of stretching has a positive effect on your body, flexibility, resilience, muscle strength, range of motion, and posture. However, each set of stretching exercises should be selected thoughtfully, taking into consideration the benefits that they give, as well as possible disadvantages when performed inadequately or at the wrong time.


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