I was on the cross-country team one year when I was in high school and I can remember how before we would go out for our runs, the team captains would lead us through about 10 minutes of stretching.  I always just pretended like I knew what I was doing, or why I was doing it, but in reality I didn't.  I stretched because everyone else was.  And it made us look like serious business before a meet.  Or at least it made the rest of them look that way... because, with the speed of a turtle there's not a lot that can make me look fast.  But how often do we, or do we observe, people stretching before a run, a game, or practice?  It is very common!  There are four basic types of stretching, which we will review here.

  1. Static Stretching is slow and constant movement to the end of the range of motion, held for 30 seconds.  This is stretching technique is best AFTER activity, and not as part of a warm-up.  Recent studies have shown that there is not a link between pre-activity stretching and risk of injury (Weerapong et al, 2004; Weldon et al, 2003; Witvrouw et al, 2004) <---must they all start with W's??  However, there is evidence that static stretching immediately prior to training or competition can negatively affect performance in strength and power-dependent activities (Cramer et al, 2004; Evetovich et al, 2003; Papaclopoulas et al, 2005; Power et al, 2004; Behm et al, 2006; Wallmann et al, 2005; Young and Behm, 2003; Fletcher and Jones, 2004; Siatras et al, 2003).  {That's a lot of studies!} 
  2. Dynamic Stretching is functionally based stretching that mimics the activity you are about to perform.  An example of this is a light jog before a run.  This is the recommended stretching technique before activity in particular, but also helpful after activity.
  3. Ballistic Stretching is a bouncing-type movement in which the end point of the range of motion is NOT held.  An example of this is rapidly swinging your leg from flexion to extension before performing hurdles.  This is NOT a recommended method for stretching except in extreme cases where the athlete must reach beyond normal ranges of motion for their sport (i.e. gymnastics) because it may very easily cause injury to muscles or connective tissue.  **Side note: if you do p90x, skip the ballistic stretches in warm-up and cool-down and instead use static stretching!
  4. PNF Stretching is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and is a common method in rehabilitation.  It is a partnered stretch with active and passive components and has three types of stretches: Hold-Relax, Contract-Relax, and Hold-Relax-Agonist-Contract.
 And that's the skinny on stretching!  Make sure to include stretching as a part of your exercise routine--it is shown to improve overall flexibility, posture, and can help your mind and body relax.


  1. wow. I had no idea there were 4 types of stretching! so, I never stretched prior to going running when training for the marathon... but I would do it afterward because it felt good. you mentioned detriments to static stretching pre-activity... but are there specific benefits to post-exercise static stretching? even if you aren't really looking to increase your range of motion? obviously it feels good, by why?

  2. Rachelio! The benefits to stretching after activity is to increase flexibility and reduce potential for injury. Flexibility is important in keeping your muscles loose and pliable so there is less likelihood of overstretching or injuring muscles and connective tissue. There's theories out there as to why stretching feels good, but the general consensus seems to be that when you stretch muscles that have either been inactive or have been active-repetitive, stretching helps release or pull against the tension thus giving relief.

  3. Marybeth stretches before bedtime--she says it helps her sleep better. But I thought first thing in the morning would be better. Where do you weigh in on this?