Static Stretching or Dynamic Stretching: Which Is Better?
The differences between these types of exercises and how to determine the type that's right for your body
You might not have guessed it, but stretching is a hot topic in the study of kinesiology (body movement). A breadth of advice is available online, and the recommendations for athletes and non-athletes alike are as varied as they are vast. It can be difficult to sift through them, but we've got the rundown on two different types of stretching — static stretching and dynamic stretching — to help you decide which is best for you.
In his 2019 book, "The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching," Dr. David G. Behm defined static stretching as "holding [a] muscle in a lengthened position for a prescribed period of time." To stretch your hamstrings statically, for example, you might bend over and touch your toes, and then hold that position for 15 seconds or longer.
"Static stretching is what most of us probably think when we hear the word 'stretching,'" said Dr. Rami Hashish, founder and principal of the National Biomechanics Institute in California.
"In the short term, static stretches to the calf muscles have been shown to help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls."
Historically, this type of stretching was thought to improve flexibility and reduce injury, but a 2019 study found that static stretching caused "trivial negative effects on subsequent strength and power performances."
These decreases were most clearly seen in high-performance athletes, but the researchers still recommended that competitors at all levels consider only short-duration static stretching for their warm-ups. A 2020 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research made similar recommendations.
Other researchers also have reservations about static stretching. James L. Nuzzo, a postdoctoral fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia, advocated for the removal of static stretching from physical fitness measures in a 2020 article in Sports Medicine.
He argued that time spent stretching would be better utilized on other activities, such as resistance training, that have larger health benefits.
That said, static stretching isn't all bad. It is widely touted as a beneficial cool-down strategy for athletes, after an activity like tennis. Even more interesting is a benefit noted by a 2020 study on older adults, which found "that a stretching program might be more effective than a walking program for reducing blood pressure in people with moderately-elevated blood pressure."
This research was the first to make such a connection.
That study's stretching program included 21 different exercises, and "they were all static stretches," said Dr. Phil Chilibeck, professor of kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.
As one of the researchers in the study, he stressed that it connected only static stretching — not dynamic — with blood pressure decreases. "Since we didn't assess dynamic stretches, I can only recommend static stretching for reducing blood pressure," noted Chilibeck.
Hashish also stressed the importance of static stretching. "In the short term, static stretches to the calf muscles have been shown to help improve balance and reduce the risk of falls," he explained. This is especially important for non-athletes.
Dynamic stretching, according to Hashish, "is a form of stretching where you exhibit a controlled, gradual increase in range of motion with each successive repetition." Unlike static stretching, where a participant holds a pose, dynamic stretching is more movement-based.
Stretching your hamstrings dynamically, according to Hashish, "may involve kicking your legs outwards in front of you, and trying to reach up higher with each successive kick."
This movement is key to the benefits of dynamic stretching. In the second edition of the book, "Full-Body Flexibility," author Jay Blahnik touted this type stretching as more useful for those looking to improve their day-to-day movements. Blahnik, who serves as Apple's senior director of fitness for health technologies, said dynamic stretching generates heat and therefore makes muscles more pliant — and less prone to injury.
Other studies support Blahnik's claims. A 2020 study in The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine described dynamic stretching as "a more sport-specific warm-up exercise," one that "increases body temperature, improves nerve conduction, and increases sports performance." Another 2020 study, this one on badminton players, suggested the use of dynamic stretching in warm-ups to augment players' range of motion and agility.
Though it has various applications in sports, dynamic stretching can benefit non-athletes as well. "Over the long term," Hashish said, "dynamic stretching has been shown to be more effective in improving flexibility for older adults." This is an important consideration for those interested in preserving or recovering functional movements.
For athletes, the National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends a combination of both static and dynamic stretching. So does the aforementioned 2019 study, which suggests that, when integrated into a dynamic warm-up, static stretching may lower the risk of injury in high-intensity athletic activities, such as sprinting or quickly changing directions.
It's a recommendation seconded by Hashish, even for non-athletes. To reap the long-term benefits of stretching, he recommends a consistent stretching plan, which can include programs such as Pilates.
Because these programs typically focus on dynamic stretching, static stretching should be woven into your exercise routine as well. For example, "before walking or exercise," Hashish said, "it may be wise to perform approximately two-minute static stretches to your calves, particularly if you have issues with your balance."
In addition, those experiencing joint soreness may find relief through, and want to focus on, static stretching.
"Many people stretch to alleviate joint soreness," Chilibeck said. In this case, he recommends focusing on specific joints when pain arises. This echoes advice given by acupuncturist Young Lee and physical therapist Robert Dulay, who recommended stretching for pain relief.
For those who've never stretched before and aren't sure where to start, Chilibeck suggests focusing on the major muscle groups in the legs, including your hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. He recommends "three repeats of each stretch, for thirty to forty seconds each" for optimal results.
Depending on your individual needs, different combinations of stretches will most benefit you. To prepare the best possible program, consult your doctor or a physical therapist for advice and suggestions.