Static vs Dynamic Stretching: When and How To Add Them to a Workout

By Alex Hoffmann on September, 29 2021
Safety / Injuries
Back to main Blog

Get our blog posts every week

Stay up to date

Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

When clients think of ‘stretching’ they may envision yogis contorting their bodies effortlessly. Others may flashback to grade school gym class, performing bouncing toe touches and windmills. Of course, neither of these is a completely accurate understanding of stretching or how to do it. In this article, we define static and dynamic stretching, present the benefits of each, and when to add them to a workout.

 

What Is Static Stretching?

Static stretching involves 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, helping ease stress, improve circulation, and help clients sink deeper into the stretch. Therefore, remind clients that they should not 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 most feel. Rather than stretching just to tick something off a to-do list, remind clients to feel the stretch and how the body reacts to it. Tell them to 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 clients become more flexible, they can advance flexibility by holding the stretch for longer or by lengthening the muscle further and holding for 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.

With as little as five minutes at the end of a workout, clients will benefit from:

  • Less post-workout stiffness and pain
  • Better flexibility, speed, and strength
  • Improved range of motion
  • Less lactic acid and thus fewer cramps
  • Lower stress levels
  • Lower injury risk

 

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. Technically, it’s fine to do them before or after a workout, but there is a caveat.

Starting a workout with only static stretching isn't a good idea. The static stretching of cold muscles is risky. It can cause injury or muscle fatigue prior to an activity. 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 cue clients to listen to their bodies. There should be slight discomfort with a stretch. The moment they push past mild discomfort and feel pain, they have turned a productive stretching routine into an increased injury risk. 

 

What Are Some Examples of Static Stretches?

The static stretching examples detailed below are for the lower body. For the abdomen and chest, consider doing the cobra stretch or the similar 'upward dog' yoga pose. There are dozens of other static stretching exercises for the upper body, including everything from triceps stretches to wrist stretches and lat stretches.

 

Hamstrings Stretch

For this common hamstrings 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 of this hurdler stretch involve bending the right leg behind the body. But this can be tough on the knees and is contraindicated in most cases.

 

Quadriceps Stretch

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. 

 

Gluteus Stretch

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?

Static stretching complements any workout. But, on its own, static stretching is not the best precursor to a vigorous workout. Instead, warm-ups before an intense exercise session should 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. 

These days, most credible trainers include dynamic stretching at the top of their routines. Dynamic stretching involves movements that engage more than one muscle group. These stretches build up to a full range of motion. Think arm circles that get bigger as your muscles become more pliable. Dynamic stretches can be functional and targeted to a specific sport. Or they can act as effective prep for a general workout.

 

What Is the Difference Between Static and Dynamic Stretching?

Compare a butterfly groin stretch and a leg swing. 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.

 

Key Takeaways

There’s an important place for both dynamic and static stretching in every workout. Dynamic stretches do a good job of warming the body up before exercise. And static stretches are an essential element in a cool-down when the body is recovering from the workout. Static stretching can prevent soreness and enhance or maintain flexibility.

There should never be pain at any point in a stretch. Programs aimed at enhancing flexibility should follow the proper progression to avoid injury. With consistency, stretching makes muscles more flexible and enhances daily activities so clients can be more active and enjoy life.

Back to main Blog
Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

Submit a Comment