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Types of stretching: Static, Active, Dynamic, PNF & Functional Stretching

November 25 2008

What is the difference between static, active, dynamic, PNF & functional stretching? Which type of stretching is better and how to do these stretches. All questions answered below.

Static Stretching

As the name suggests, static stretching involves holding a muscle at the stretched position for 20 -30 seconds. No additional benefit has been shown to extend the stretch for more than 30 seconds.

Static stretching is best done after your workouts. It has shown to decrease strength and power if done immediately before weight training. The stretch is held when you feel a nice stretch ( or slight discomfort) until you feel the muscle relaxing.

static stretching for hamstrings

In the picture, a common hamstring stretch called the straight leg raise is shown.

Active Stretching

Active stretching involves stretching the muscle actively. In other words, you are holding the stretched position with the opposing muscle group. You muscles are playing an active role in holding the stretch position.

In the picture example, the hamstrings are stretched by using your quadriceps (opposing muscle). You cannot hold this position for more than 5-10 seconds. She is only using her hands for support and is not holding the leg up with her hands.

active stretching for hamstrings

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is similar to active stretching. However, in dynamic stretching you don’t hold the stretch. You are always moving or dynamic.

Dynamic stretching is not the best for improving flexibility. But it is good way to warm up for your sport and has shown to improve performance.

Dynanmic stretching for hamstrings

PNF Stretching

Propioreceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is said to use receptors to improve the neuromuscular (related to nerves & muscles) response of the body. The flexibility gained can be maintained by doing PNF stretches of minimum one repetition for at least 2 times a week. There are different ways to do PNF: Contract relax, Contract-Hold relax and so on.

Usually, PNF is performed with the help of a partner. But you can do it on your own with a towel for resistance. Atleast if you get hurt, you have only yourself to blame.

To perform a hamstring PNF stretch, stretch till you feel a slight discomfort, contract the hamstring isometrically (without moving) for 3-5 sec, relax the muscle and slowly deepen the stretch using your quadriceps (opposing muscle). Repeat the cycle 3-4 times. Try it, it just sounds complicated.

PNF yields greatest gains and is the fastest way known to improve the range of motion or flexibility.Recent studies have shown that there is nothing neural or propiorecptive about PNF and is due to an increase in stretch or pain tolerance. So forget the term “PNF”.

Functional Stretching

Functional Stretching is something which came out recently. Most of the strength coaches now lean towards functional stretching to improve flexibility in their athletes. Athletes mainly use free weights and not much machines because of the theory of specificity. The theory says that strength, coordination, speed, & balance is highly specific to the movement.

Based on the same theory, if you want the newly gained ROM to show up in your movements (or have the strength and coordination), the stretching should be functional or specific. Since most movements are ground based (or standing), it makes a lot of sense to do lower body stretches standing on your feet.

image

In the picture, the increase in flexibility or ROM may transfer better to running or other movements since it closely mimics those movements (But this is just a theory and yet to be proven I believe)

Conclusion

  • Use static or PNF stretching if the muscle is really tight. Better to avoid static stretching before your workouts. Functional stretching is a better option to PNF & static, atleast theoretically.
  • Use dynamic stretching as warm up rather than static stretching.
  • Maintain the arch in your back and keep the non-stretched leg straight and toes pointed upright.
  • Always remember to breathe while streching. Stretching shouldn’t be painful.

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Shannon | Sun December 07, 2008  

Hi Anoop

I am confused. Should I do PNF or static stretching to increase my flexibility? I have tight hamstrings.

I can’t figure the PNF you wrote about. How do I do with a towel?

Thank you
Shannon

Anoop | Wed December 10, 2008  

Hi shannon

I should have been more clear.

Look at the picture under static stretching. Instead of holding (as she does) use a towel. Then: “stretch till you feel a slight discomfort, contract the hamstring isometrically (without moving) for 3-5 sec, relax the muscle and slowly deepen the stretch using your quadriceps (opposing muscle). Repeat the cycle 3-4 times”

So you are basically pushing your leg against the towel to contract it isometrically.

Hope it helps

dr.monika | Wed December 24, 2008  

Sir I need full article for my thesis topic “Effect of PNF streatching Vs static streatching in hamstring flexibility “. sir plz if you hve then plz send me on my mail id . Thanks

Rick | Fri January 30, 2009  

At the age of 50, what is the best way to gain and maintain flexibility for the martial arts?  Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Rick

Anoop | Fri January 30, 2009  

Hi Rick

Since martial arts is all about movement, I would say dynamic flexibility and functional flexibility would be your best bet. If you don’t have time, try PNF. You can see some instant changes.

Considering your age, there might be some fibrous connective tissue formation. So I would recommend some static stretching to stretch out the connective tissue.

Hope it helps

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Tue February 10, 2009  

Up to this point, I have had clients stretch “tight” muscles, while strengthening the antagonists. Would this be your suggestion and as far as post exercise static stretching what your recommend for volume/frequency ?

Thanks

Anoop | Tue February 10, 2009  

Hi Jim

I didn’t really understand what you meant here. Are you saying you stretch tight muscles and only do weights for the opposite muscle?

Static stretching volume like 2-3 sets of 15-20 sec. For older people, I have seen studies recommending a longer duration.

I do some functional stretching (mobility drills) most of the time. It’s a lot more fun since you are moving and it is supposedly better (atleast theoretically).

Try some PNF too.

Jim @ Total Body Fitness | Fri February 13, 2009  

My apologies for being vague. An example might be for some one with tight internal rotator cuff muscles. Upon finishing an upper body routine, I would have them do some strength work for their external rotators, while stretching their internal rotators between sets (door way stretch etc…). I would not however have them stretch their external rotators.

Thanks

Anoop | Sun February 15, 2009  

Hi Jim


If you are unaware, you are in fact taking advantage of the Sherrington’s Law of reciprocal inhibition. It says contracting a muscle at one joint relaxes the opposing muscle. I use this method too. And that’s how the Contract-relax technique works in PNF stretches.

Jut like contraction can aid in stretching, stretching can aid in better contraction. For example, stretching you hip flexors can help in contracting your glutes better (if you have tight hip flexors).

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