Longevity has become my target goal since just before crossing the 30s threshold, right about the time my body started to ache for reasons mysterious to me. Why was I so sore after jogging? Why was my neck stiff each morning? Why did my back hurt constantly? I had little idea until recently that there are different types of stretching, and that maybe I was stretching the wrong way.
This was a bit of mind-bender. I hadn’t before considered one could stretch the wrong way. Didn’t you just… you know… stretch?
The more I learned from physical therapists and my own research, the more I realized that there was more to this stretching stuff than I would have guessed. I realized that much of the time I had been doing static stretching when I should have been doing dynamic stretching, and doing my muscles a disservice in the process.
I want to help you avoid the mistakes I made and provide insight into the different types of stretching, and how they can help you stay mobile, active, and injury-free year after year, no matter how many years go by.
In this blog, we’ll discuss the five different types of stretching, their benefits and differences, and a few simple tips for starting a new stretching routine.
What Are The Different Types Of Stretching?
There are different types of stretching, in the same way that there are different types of pilates and yoga, guitar styles, baseball pitches, and pretty much anything. And each type has its own benefits and recommended use.
With that said, let’s examine the five5 best types of stretches and when and why to do each one.
1. Static Stretching
Static stretching is the type of stretching most of us are familiar with. It involves holding a stretch for 30-45 seconds with slight tension and slow release. There are two types of static stretching:
Active stretching is just you and your body. Active stretching involves contracting one muscle group to give tension to the opposing muscle group, such as contracting your hamstring to stretch your quadriceps. This is your normal, everyday kind of stretch.
Passive stretching involves using an aid or external force, such as stretching bands, a wall (think chest openers), or even a partner. Think of passive stretching as a form of assisted stretching instead of having to do all the work yourself. This can significantly improve flexibility and range of motion, but be careful—experts warn that passive stretching can lead to over-extension and greater risk of injury.
Benefits of static stretching
Static stretching can increase range of motion (ROM) and flexibility if done properly. Duration is important. Studies have shown that stretching five or more days per week for at least five minutes benefits ROM. 
But, keep in mind that static stretching should ideally be saved until after physical exertion (and never skipped!). Sports scientists are finding that stretching cold muscles (muscles that haven’t had any warm up) can actually be detrimental, causing instability and depleted strength during your workout.  However, a static stretch just after a warm showed increased range of motion (ROM) without noticeable detriment. 
2. Dynamic Stretching
Think of dynamic stretching as stretching plus warmup. It uses intentional motions to loosen your muscles while warming them up for physical activity. Dynamic stretching involves moving in and out of a particular stretch, almost like accelerated yoga.
Benefits of dynamic stretching
Because dynamic stretching is more movement-based, it has become popular among athletes and physical therapists as the optimal type of pre-exercise stretching because it helps warm up your muscles and get them ready for exertion.
Dynamic stretching has been shown to still increase ROM and flexibility, while decreasing stiffness and the risk of injury due to overextension or excessive looseness in your muscles. What’s more is dynamic stretching has also been shown to significantly decrease stiffness immediately after stretching is complete. 
3. Ballistic Stretching
Often confused with dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching incorporates intensive movement patterns into a pre-exercise stretch routine. The difference is that ballistic stretching requires fast, strong muscle countermovements that often go beyond normal ROM. Ballistic stretching is not recommended without supervision.
Benefits of ballistic stretching
Ballistic stretching has been shown to decrease muscle and tendon tightness, however, the jury is still out in regards to how healthy it really is, especially for non-athletes. Due to the high velocity of stretching, this type of stretching has a high risk of injury to muscles and tendons.  Though it can free up muscle and joint mobility, most experts agree that it is less beneficial than static or controlled dynamic stretching. 
4. PNF Stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation)
One of the most effective types of stretching, PNF stretching was originally designed for physical rehabilitation. It involves contracting a muscle group for about five seconds or so while resistance is applied by either a partner (such as a trained physical therapist) or an immovable object.
Being that it was invented to rehabilitate injured muscles, this is one of the greatest benefits for PNF stretching. It’s been shown to increase both ROM and neuromuscular efficiency—the ability for your brain to engage the correct musculature.  This is critical for dynamic stabilization, or movement support, as well as producing or receiving the force effectively. (Beyond helping to increase ROM, it can also help restore strength that has been lost after an injury or to acute muscle groups. Doing PNF stretching under the supervision of a trained professional after exercising and at least twice a week can help increase ROM, strength, and athletic performance. But don’t practice PNF stretching before exercising, as it may decrease strength and performance. 
5. Myofascial Release
Myofascial release is a hands-on type of stretching therapy intended to eliminate pain and restore ROM. It’s often used in conjunction with other therapies to help inflammation, post-surgical pain and stiffness, and muscular trauma.  It may seem like a massage, but really it’s stretching and releasing myofascial tissue—a fibrous connective tissue made up of collagen that supports muscles and bones.  Though considered an alternative medicine, it’s now common practice among chiropractors and physical therapists.
Benefits of myofascial release
Though research data is scarce, anecdotal reports show that myofascial release may be very beneficial to people with certain joint, back, or neck pain, and those who suffer from fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome. There are a number of myofascial release stretches you can do right at home with little to no risk of injury.
One of the most common at-home myofascial release techniques is foam rolling. You can find them reasonably priced at most sporting goods stores or online. You can also try them out at your local gym.
Self-myofascial release can be done just about anywhere on your body. Foam rolling helps release any lactic acid buildup in your muscles and tendons from exercise. The foam roller acts like a massage, rolling and pushing through any tension. Simply roll along the area you’re trying to target (it can be your back, hamstrings, calves, quads, etc.) for 30-60 seconds. Use your weight and balance to apply more or less pressure to the area depending on your pain tolerance. If you carry a lot of tension in those areas, it might feel uncomfortable at first, but trust me when I say that it will feel amazing once you’re done!
Tips For Starting A Stretching Routine
Having a daily stretching routine is important for everyone to do every day. As Harvard Medical School explains, “Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.” 
Here are my top four tips for creating your own stretching routine and avoiding injury.
- Tip 1: Do it daily. Many of the studies I’ve cited in this post comment on the importance of regularity in your stretching. That means aiming for a minimum of five days per week. But if you can hit all seven, then go for it. Just follow Tip #2…
- Tip 2: Don’t overdo it! As you now know, certain types of stretching, such as ballistic stretching or passive static stretching, can cause you to overstretch and make your muscles and tendons vulnerable to injury. Listen to your body; when you stretch, you should feel tension—not pain.
- Tip 3: Pre-stretch AND post-stretch. That’s right! Make sure to incorporate a dynamic stretch just after your warm up (right around the point when you’re first starting to sweat). Then, after your workout or activity, give your body some love with some static stretching to lengthen those muscles of yours!
- Tip 4: Support with supplementation. The vast majority of our ligaments, tendons, and myofascial tissues are collagen, which our bodies stop producing (but continue needing) by the time we’re in our 30s. Supplementing Super Youth collagen peptides into your diet can help strengthen your joints and soft tissue, giving you lots of support through both your stretching routine and the physical activity you do afterward.
The Bottom Line
So… is stretching good for you? YES—No question! But the truth is there are many different types of stretching you can do at different points in the day and in your life. Focus on dynamic stretching before you exercise and static stretching afterward. Fast, ballistic stretching should be avoided unless trained supervision is available to help you avoid injury. PNF and myofascial release can be included in a post-injury routine (which I hope you never have to endure!), or carefully at home when using the proper techniques. So there you have it! Try including different types of stretching into your daily routine, and stick to it! You’ve got a long life ahead of you, might as well make the best use of your body that you can!