4 Best Types of Stretching Exercises for Healthy Muscles

Did you know that there you can use different types of stretching exercises to maximize your fitness results? Find out how from our resident exercise physiologist!

As a kid, I hated stretching.

I would go to soccer practice after school with my friends.  We would stretch for a good 15 minutes before every training session — and then for another 15 minutes after.

In my mind, it was overkill.  And, more importantly, it was boring.

I mean, seriously, why can’t we just play already?  In my mind, I was not there to stretch, but to practice.

But boy, oh, boy, how times change…

As a teenager, I started going to the gym.  I trained to get bigger, stronger, and faster. And I loved it.

There was this really nice tipping point where I actually started to see my body change.  I was losing fat and building muscle. Every session, it felt like I was getting stronger and my weights were increasing steadily.

I started to realize that the harder I worked, the better my results were.

So, I started to train hard and I started to train often.

And it went really well… For a little while, that is.  

Then I started to develop some nagging injuries.  Nothing serious mind you, but a little bit of shoulder pain here and there.  And I could no longer squat without my hips feeling a little pinchy. To be honest, I simply felt a bit uncomfortable every time I moved.

And then at training, I tore my hamstring.

Like, bad.

At that moment, I realized that the reason why I felt tight all the time was because I was tight.  My little niggles were not because I was injured but because my muscles were so tight that I couldn’t move freely.

Fortunately, there was an obvious answer — stretching.

I started stretching every day.  I started paying attention to how I felt and stretched as required.  And wouldn’t you know it — my niggles disappeared. I could move freely again!

But it wasn’t as easy as simply stretching.  It took a bit of trial and error before I found the best types of stretching exercises for me as an individual.

Now, I can help you do the same!

What are the Benefits of Stretching?

Woman stretching on purple yoga mat

For someone who once hated stretching, it didn’t take me long to change my tune — mainly because I started to realize that stretching has so many benefits.

Let’s check out the top five!

Stretching Improves Your Ability to Move

If you exercise a muscle often or get stuck in the same position for a long period of time (think about sitting), your muscles will become short and stiff.  If this happens, then it reduces the amount of range you have available at your joints.

Now, if you are thinking that this doesn’t sound like a good thing, it’s probably because it’s not.

See, if this happens, the amount of movement you have available becomes limited.  It becomes harder to move your arm over your head or even get up from the ground. In short, your ability to move gets worse.

But stretching rectifies this.  

Stretching:

As a result, it can get you feeling better and actually improve your ability to navigate your daily life!

Stretching Improves Your Posture

These same short and stiff muscles that ruin your movement can also impact your posture. If they are tight, the pull your skeleton into undesirable positions.

A very simple example of this is the “rounded shoulder” posture you commonly see with people who spend too much time working on a computer.  In this scenario, muscles at the front of the shoulder become short and stiff. They then pull the shoulders forward, causing poor posture.

But stretching offers the perfect remedy by simply restoring length to these tight muscles!

Stretching Speeds Up Your recovery

Stretching promotes the flow of blood to your muscles.  This increased blood flow helps clear out any nasty chemicals created by exercise. Not to mention it helps increase the movement potential of your muscles.

As a result, stretching the day after exercise has been shown to reduce post-exercise muscle stiffness and speed up recovery!

Stretching Reduces Your Risk of Injury

I have already outlined how stretching helps improve your ability to move. I have also touched on the fact that stretching increases blood flow to your muscles.  Together, these effects mean that it also has the potential to reduce joint stress and better prepare your body for exercise.  

And this is where things get really cool!

See, because of this, stretching reduces the risk of an injury during your workout.  It essentially bulletproofs your body, meaning that you can get the most out of your workouts!

Stretching Enhances Your Performance

Finally, stretching doesn’t only have to be used to fix things. In fact, when implemented correctly, it can actually improve your performance on the field and in the gym.

See, performing specific types of stretching before exercising can help warm up your muscles and your joint range of motion at the same time.  As a result, stretching not only prepares you for the upcoming session but also increases your movement capabilities and efficiency during that session.

This means you will be moving more freely, which has the potential to improve your strength and power in a big way!

What are the 4 Types of Stretching Exercises?

As I have already alluded to above, stretching can be implemented in a number of different ways.  Now, I should note that this doesn’t mean that one type of stretching is better than another. It simply means that different types of stretching exercises are more suitable in certain scenarios than others.

With this in mind, there are four main types of stretching exercises:

  • static stretching
  • dynamic stretching
  • PNF stretching
  • ballistic stretching

4 Types of Stretching

Type

How to perform

When to perform

Static

Hold the stretch in a stationary position for at least 10 seconds per side (I like 30-60 seconds)

After your session, or on your recovery days.

Dynamic

Ease into the stretch, and then ease back out. Try and get a little further each time.  Perform for 2 sets of 15 repetitions.

Before you exercise.

PNF

Contract the muscle isometrically as hard as you can for 5 seconds, then stretch that same muscle. Perform 2 sets of 10 repetitions per side.

Before you exercise.

Ballistic

Quickly bounce in and out of a stretch, trying to get a little further each time. Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions per side.

After your warm-up, before you exercise.

Static Stretching

Black and white image of man stretching his quadricep

When most people think of “stretching”, they think of static stretching.

With static stretching, you slowly ease into a position that places the desired muscle under tension.  You then hold that stretch for anywhere between 10 seconds and 2 minutes before slowly releasing it.

Most people recommend using static stretching after your warm-up, at the end of your session, or on your recovery days.

One of my favorite static stretches is the half kneeling hip flexor stretch.  This stretch targets those nasty muscles at the front of the hip that get tight after long periods of sitting.  As a result, it is a great stretch to improve posture and help with your lower back pain!

I recommend using 3 sets of 60 seconds per side for this one!

Related Article: Medical Marijuana Benefits: Cannabis for Back Pain Remedy

Dynamic Stretching

Woman in running clothes stretching her hamstring

Somewhat different to static stretching, dynamic stretching is stretching with movement.

With dynamic stretching, your body slowly moves into a position that produces a stretch and is then eased out of it almost immediately.  You then repeat this process, gradually increasing your range of motion with each movement. As I am sure you could have guessed, dynamic stretching is normally performed for repetitions (10-20 pulses), rather than for a set amount of time.

Because dynamic stretching also warms up your muscle tissue through movement, it is the perfect option before your workout.

My favorite dynamic stretch is the supine hamstring stretch.  This is the perfect choice before any type of running or sprinting because it warms up those hamstring muscles, helping prevent injuries.  

I perform two sets of 15 reps per side of this stretch before every lower body gym session.

PNF Stretching

Man doing PNF stretching with a partner

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (or PNF, for short) stretching is a pretty unique type of stretching that actually requires the use of a partner.

With PNF stretching, you actively contract your muscle isometrically (without moving) against resistance provided by your partner for 5-10 seconds.  Immediately after the contraction, you then begin stretching that same muscle.

PNF stretching is great for increasing range of motion and flexibility before training.  But it can be a little impractical because it requires help.

My favorite PNF stretch is the bench assisted PNF quad stretch.  The reason I like this one so much is because you can actually do it by yourself!  It is also a great option to improve the range of motion in your hips before you jump into a lower body gym session.

Again, I really like performing 2 sets of 10 reps per side with this one!

Ballistic Stretching

Man in a gym doing child's pose

The last type of stretching that I want to touch on is ballistic stretching.

Ballistic stretching uses repetitive bouncing movements to quickly move a specific muscle into a stretch.  So, to use a hamstring stretch as a very simple example, you would rapidly reach down and touch your toes and then stand back up.  You would then perform this short burst of movement for 10-20 reps.

Now, while ballistic stretching can indeed improve flexibility, it is arguably the most dangerous form of stretching.  Because it is relatively rapid, there is a risk you could injure yourself if you push too far on a repetition. As a result, it is best if you perform it after your warm-up when your muscles are already more flexible.

While ballistic stretching does have some risk associated, I do like using it for my hamstrings after I have completed some dynamic stretches.  This walking hamstring stretch is my personal favorite ballistic stretch.

Perform it for 2 sets of 15 reps and reap the rewards!

What are the Best Stretching Techniques For Your Health Goals?

Something I alluded to above is that different types of stretching have better results in certain situations.  Which is exactly why I wanted to provide a bit of insight into what those situations are!

Here are the best types of stretching techniques if you want to:

Increase General Flexibility

When it comes to increasing flexibility, you really cannot do better than static stretching. Seriously, it has been shown time and time again to help increase muscle length and enhance joint range of motion.

The trick with static stretching is to find those muscles that are actually tight and then stretch them daily.

With this in mind, I have a daily stretching routine that I recommend to all my clients. These types of stretching exercises focus on all the hot spots in the body that typically get tight through excessive sitting:

Daily Stretching Routine

Half kneeling hip flexor stretch

2 sets of 60 seconds per side

Pigeon gluteal stretch

2 sets of 30 seconds per side

Calf stretch

3 sets of 30 seconds per side

Leaning quadratus lumborum stretch

2 sets of 60 seconds per side

Door frame latissimus dorsi stretch

1 set of 60 seconds per side

If you do this every day, you are not only going to get more flexibility but also feel heaps better!

Prevent Injury

I have already stated that if you want to stretch before exercise, then dynamic stretching is your best bet.  Since it warms up your muscle tissue while increasing your flexibility, it is the best way to prevent injuries.

Some of the most important muscle groups to focus on here are your hamstrings, quads, calves, and adductors.  If you hit each of these before working out, you are going to be in a great spot to prevent injuries.

Recover from a Muscle Injury

After getting a muscle strain, you are at an increased risk of scar tissue forming at the site of injury.  This can reduce your flexibility, and actually make you more susceptible to the same injury in the future!

With this in mind, I recommend trying to start introducing some gentle static stretching to the injured muscle within the first 48 hours after injury. This will help heal the muscle and reduce the formation of scar tissue.

Keep Mobile as You Age

Keeping your joints mobile as you age is integral to maintaining a high degree of function. It improves your ability to perform tasks of daily living and simply get by comfortably on a daily basis.

Static stretching is the best types of stretching exercises for this.  Since it improves the length of your muscles, it has an immediate impact on your joint mobility!

Related Reading: Active Aging: The Life-Long Benefits of Exercise

Improve Aerobic Exercise Performance

Before performing a whole lot of aerobic exercise, you really want to make sure that you don’t have any obvious restriction in mobility and you also want your muscles warm.  

With this in mind, dynamic stretches are the best types of stretching exercises you can do before running or other aerobic exercises!

The most important muscles are those key movers for your exercise. So, target your hamstrings, quads, and calves if you’ll be biking, walking, or running and your shoulders, back, chest, and arms if you’ll be swimming or rowing!

Improve Strength Training Performance

Last but not least, I wanted to talk about stretching for strength training.  

Long duration static stretching has actually been shown to decrease power output in the short term.  This means that it may actually hinder your strength training session.  As a result, dynamic, ballistic, and PNF (especially if you have a training partner) stretching are better choices here. With this, you want to make sure that you stretch those areas of the body that you plan on training in the gym.

For example, if you are doing an upper-body session, make sure that you stretch the muscles of your chest and your back.  Conversely, if you are training your lower body, make sure you stretch all the main muscle groups in your legs!

Take Home Message

Stretching is hands down one of the best things that you can do for your body.  It can get you feeling better, it can improve your mobility, and it can even enhance your performance.  Depending on your stretching goals, you can use static, dynamic, ballistic, or PNF stretching exercises. There really is no reason not to do it!

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