If there’s one aspect of training that most runners will admit that they tend to “cut corners” or skimp on, it’s stretching.
We are often eager to get out the door for our run, so we may skip any type of pre-workout stretching routine, and once we have finished the run, we might hop on the foam roller for a minute or two before jumping in the shower.
However, it’s well established that there are quite a few benefits of stretching before and after running or doing any type of exercise.
But, what is the best type of stretching to do, static vs dynamic stretching? Is static stretching vs dynamic stretching better before you run? Is dynamic vs static stretching better after working out?
Furthermore, what is the difference between static stretching vs dynamic stretching? In this article, we will do a static stretching vs dynamic stretching comparison and discuss what type of stretching to do and when.
We will cover:
- What Is Static Stretching?
- What Is Dynamic Stretching?
- How Does Stretching Work?
- What Is the Difference Between Static Stretching Vs Dynamic Stretching?
- When Should You Do Static Stretching Vs Dynamic Stretching?
- Examples of Static Stretches and Dynamic Stretches
Let’s dive in!
What Is Static Stretching?
Static stretching is the type of stretching that typically comes to mind when most people think of stretching.
Static stretching involves extending a muscle towards the end range of motion and then holding the position, usually for 15-30 seconds, though some people may hold static stretches for upwards of 60 seconds or more.
Stretches may be repeated several times, depending on the needs and time availability of the athlete.
The goal of static stretching is to increase the range of motion or flexibility in the muscles by releasing the tension, helping to improve mobility and reduce the risk of muscle pulls or strains during exercise.
Examples of common static stretches include the standing hamstring stretch, where you fold at the waist and reach down to touch your toes, and the butterfly stretch.
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
Most people consider one of the main differences between dynamic stretching vs static stretching to be that dynamic stretching is a more functional form of stretching.
Dynamic stretching involves performing continuous movement patterns to extend the range of motion around a joint to stretch the muscles rather than a constant hold at the end range of motion.
Although both static stretching and dynamic stretching aim to increase flexibility and range of motion and decrease the risk of injuries, dynamic stretching also aims to increase blood flow to the tissues and warm up muscles prior to running.
In this way, dynamic stretching involves moving the body to prepare for even more movement during the workout.
Examples of dynamic stretches before running that someone may perform include hip circles and exaggerated walking lunges to stretch the hamstrings and glutes before running.
How Does Stretching Work?
The goal of any type of stretching is generally to increase your range of motion.
Range of motion refers to how much mobility or movement you have in a joint.
In general, the more range of motion you have, the more limber and flexible you’ll feel and the better able your body will be to move the way it is designed to move.
If you have tight muscles and connective tissues, it will be difficult to move your joints through their full range of motion, and you may feel stiff and as if you are fighting your body to move fluently and unencumbered.
For example, runners and walkers who have tight glutes and hip flexors will have a limited range of motion around the hip, which can compromise stride length, running economy, and efficiency.
So how does stretching work to increase flexibility?
Both dynamic and passive stretching activate sensory receptors (such as muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTOs)) in muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
As the tissue stretches, these receptors then relay a signal to the spinal cord.
The parasympathetic nervous system responds to this sensory message by sending a signal back to the tissues to relax.
As muscle fibers and tendons relax, the tissues lengthen, which causes them to pull less forcefully on joints and permit more “give” or motion about the joint.
Dynamic stretches take things one step further by also elevating the heart rate because the body is in motion, which increases circulation.
Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and warms the tissue, all of which further enhance the flexibility and stretch in the muscle by making the fibers pliable.
Additionally, according to the Cleveland Clinic, dynamic stretching mimics the movements that you’re going to be performing in the workout you’re about to do, so it helps the muscles activate to “rehearse” the movement patterns.
This gets the muscles primed and prepared so that they can contract more powerfully and with improved coordination in your workout when it “counts.”
What Is the Difference Between Static Stretching Vs Dynamic Stretching?
Static stretching and dynamic stretching can both increase your flexibility, but there are quite a few differences between dynamic vs static stretching.
The primary difference between static stretching vs dynamic stretching is that static stretching is considered passive stretching, while dynamic stretching is a form of active stretching.
With static stretching, you extend the muscle until you feel a comfortable degree of tension towards the end range of motion, and then you simply pause and hold the position without doing anything. This passively stretches the muscle fibers.
Dynamic stretching is considered active stretching because you are actively moving the body to not only repeatedly mobilize a joint to extend the muscles towards their end range of motion, but in doing so, you are also increasing circulation to the tissues, which further increases mobility.
For this reason, you may hear the terms static stretching and passive stretching used interchangeably as well as dynamic stretching vs active stretching.
When Should You Do Static Stretching Vs Dynamic Stretching?
The general consensus in most research studies is that dynamic stretching tends to be better before exercise and passive stretching is more effective after a workout.
For example, one study found that performing a dynamic stretching routine prior to exercise can increase flexibility and range of motion in the hamstrings and decrease passive stiffness.
Moreover, the benefits of dynamic stretching in terms of reducing muscle stiffness were shown to persist for 90 minutes or so, indicative of a functionally lasting impact of pre-workout dynamic stretching on muscle mechanics.
Dynamic stretches involve constant movement, so they start to increase your heart rate and prepare your body for the upcoming vigorous movements during exercise.
Additionally, dynamic stretching has been shown to help activate muscles, which is helpful in a pre-workout routine because this means your muscles are “turned on” and prepared to work or absorb the impact forces of running or contract powerfully as you lift weights.
Some research suggests that dynamic stretching prior to a workout can improve exercise performance. For example, recent evidence suggests that dynamic stretches before a workout can increase vertical jump height.
Examples of Static Stretches and Dynamic Stretches
Butterfly stretch for the groin, standing or seated hamstring stretch (reaching for the toes), figure-4 stretch, frog stretch, and calf stretch.
- Walking lunges: Add trunk twists to stretch and mobilize the spine and core.
- Leg swings: Leg swings increase the range of motion in your hips. Keep your leg straight and swing one leg back and forth like a pendulum. You can also do leg swings across the body from side to side to open the hips.
- High knees
- Butt kicks
- A skips
- Arm circles and windmills
- Heel walks and toe walks
- Fire hydrants and donkey kicks on all fours
Overall, your stretching routine does not need to be particularly time- or energy-intensive in order to be effective.
Depending on the type of exercise you plan to do (running, strength training, cycling, etc.), pick 3-5 dynamic stretches that target the primary muscles you will be using during the workout and perform each dynamic stretch for 30-60 seconds before your workout.
After your workout, include a handful of passive stretches that target the primary muscles you exercised during your workout and perform each stretch 1-3 times for 15 to 30 seconds each.
For example, a runner might do some walking lunges, hip swings, and butt kicks before running and may do a standing quad stretch, standing hamstring stretch, and standing IT band stretch by crossing one leg over the other after the run.
Now that you know which type of stretching to do when, when referring to static stretching vs dynamic stretching, you can check out our lists of dynamic and static stretches for your pre and post-workout routines.