Static vs Dynamic Stretching: When should you do each? Do you need both?

by Adam Toffan, M.Sc, NSCA-CSCS, CSEP-CEP
Assistant Fitness Testing and Assessment Coordinator
Recreation Services
University of Manitoba

What is Static/Dynamic stretching?

For years static stretching was all anyone did. Recently, many have said you should only do dynamic stretches. Should you do one over the other? Should you do both? Static stretching is holding a position for a prolonged period of time. The goal is to relax the muscle while stretching it. Research found that holding static stretches for ~30s was sufficient to elongate the muscle and improve flexibility. This helps you improve mobility for daily activities such as putting on your socks. It can also help prevent injury by increasing the range a joint can move through before muscle damage occurs. This type of stretching is most beneficial after a workout to help cooldown and prevent muscle tightening that occurs after activity. If flexibility is an issue you may need to add more stretching into your day, stretching on the floor at home during your leisure time, if necessary.

Dynamic stretching, on the other hand is active stretching. Dynamic stretching uses controlled repetitive movements through the full range of motion and can stretch multiple muscles at a time. A higher intensity progression to dynamic stretching would include ballistic/bouncing stretches. When doing dynamic stretches it is important to progress properly from lower to higher intensity. Dynamic stretching helps improve blood flow, increase range of motion, improve joint position awareness and will improve athletic performance. It has become a necessary part of an athletic warm up.

When to do each

Many still do static stretches as a warm up out of habit. However, dynamic stretching is a better option when preparing for activity. The goal of warm up is in its name. You are trying to get warm and increase the core body temperature. Sitting or standing still holding a stretch will not be effective at achieving this goal. Actively moving through a range of motion, even slowly and controlled, will be a more productive use of time. Moving through the range of motion also helps prepare you for activity by increasing the release of synovial fluids into the joints to lubricate the joints. There is also research that shows static stretching reduces muscular power when done prior to exercise by inhibiting the muscle’s ability to fire efficiently. Therefore, when warming up for exercise or looking to maximize athletic performance, dynamic stretching is the way to go.

The benefit of static stretching is flexibility. When done only prior to activity, you may be wasting your time. After exercise, you often get tight muscles and this might undo all of your static stretching in warm up. Static stretching should be reserved for after exercise and can also be done on its own. This will help prevent tightness post workout and improve flexibility during daily tasks.

Both forms of stretching have their benefits and ideal times to be implemented. Depending on your needs and goals you may use both or you may focus more on one. Whichever you do, consider the ideal time and purpose of each to maximize your results!