Types of Stretching: 7 Different Techniques to Foster Flexibility

December 14, 2023 by No Comments

Are you tired of feeling stiff, tight, or sore? Stretching, a type of exercise that increases Flexibility and Mobility through stretching your muscles via movement or extension, may help.

Stretching is important for everyone, including athletes. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, extension is recommended at least twice to three times a week.

The goal of stretching is to reduce tension and increase flexibility in our muscles in order to improve the range of motion in our joints, says Daniel Giordano DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist from Bespoke Treatments, New York City. Stretching is a great way to promote longevity, prevent injuries, and improve the experience of aging.

Stretching isn’t simply bending down to touch your toes. Each stretching method has its benefits and effects. Certain stretching methods are best performed before and after a workout.

What is the Difference Between Active Stretching and Passive Stretching?

There are many ways to categorize the different stretching methods. It may be easier to divide them into two categories: passive and active.

According to a review of research, passive stretches are any techniques in which the muscle lengthened does not contract (tightens or shortens). In contrast, active stretches involve muscle contraction at some stage during the stretch.

Active stretching is ideal for prepping your muscles for exercise. Passive stretching should be used after your workout. This is according to Frederick E. Soliman, DO. He’s a primary sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute and a researcher.

Let’s now explore the benefits of different types of stretching.

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There are many types of passive stretching

Static Stretching

What it Is: According to the American Council on Exercise, this is the most popular type of stretching. Giordano says that static stretching is holding the stretch for a certain amount of time. This can be anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Hamstring stretching is a classic static stretch.

Try it: Place your foot and hips on a low stool. Lean forward with your hips, and you will feel a stretch on the back of your leg. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery, keep your knees straight and your back flat throughout the period.

Giordano notes that benefits: Static stretches can improve flexibility and reduce tension when performed in conjunction with a cooldown after exercise. It can also enhance the range of motion. According to a meta-analysis and systematic review published in January 2021 by Sports Medicine, static stretching increases the range of movement in the muscle or joint that is being tested, as well as in other muscles or joints.

Passive Stretching

What it Is: Passive Stretching is similar to static stretches in that you hold a time for 30 seconds or two minutes. Giordano says that passive stretching uses an external force, such as a towel or resistance bands, to increase flexibility and range of motion. Static stretching requires you to hold yourself up in the stretch position.

Try it: Take the static hamstring stretching above. You’d lie down on your back and lift your leg until your hamstrings felt stretched. Then, ask a friend to hold that leg.

Benefits: Like static stretching, passive stretching is ideal for cooling down after a workout. Passive stretching increases blood flow to muscles, which helps clear waste products like lactic acid, says Dr. Soliman. “That can help with muscle recovery,” he adds.

Types of Active Stretching

Active Stretching

What It Is: This method of stretching involves contracting one group of muscles while the opposite group of muscles is stretched. These types of stretches are typically held for 10 to 15 seconds and without using an external aid, notes Christine Helfrich, PT, DPT, an orthopedic clinical specialist with Hinge Health, a digital joint and muscle care clinic. “An example would be using your back muscles to open your arms and chest really wide to feel a stretch on the front part of your pectoral and chest muscles,” Helfrich says.

Try It: Stand straight on the floor with both feet flat. Spread your arms wide, parallel to the floor, and gently lean back until you feel a stretch across the front of your chest.

Benefits: Active stretching helps elongate the target muscles, increase blood flow, and get your joints moving. “So it’s really warming up the muscles to prepare them for activity,” Soliman says. It also improves mobility and decreases pain or soreness, Dr. Helfrich notes.

Isometric Stretching

What It Is: “This form of stretching occurs when the muscle that is being stretched is contracted in a static position,” Helfrich says. Essentially, you’ll take a static or active stretch and add an isometric muscle contraction — this is where the muscle doesn’t change length (visibly move). “An example would be when you’re stretching your quad,” says Helfrich.

Try It: While standing, bend one knee to bring your ankle close to your glutes. Firmly hold your ankle in place and try to straighten your knee against the resistance of your hand.

Benefits: This type of stretching improves your range of motion and strengthens your muscles at their end range of motion, “which is typically where they are the weakest,” Helfrich says. This perk makes isometric stretching helpful for injury prevention, she adds.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

What It Is: PNF, which stands for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, is typically performed with the help of a practitioner, Giordano says. It alternates between contracting and relaxing a muscle to deepen the range of motion, per ACE. And there are several different types of PNF, including “contract relax,” “hold relax,” and “contract-relax agonist contract,” according to a research paper. While these types differ slightly, they’re generally performed by contracting the stretched muscle at 75 to 100 percent of its maximum, holding for 10 seconds, and then relaxing the paper notes.

Try It: Per ACE, a hamstring stretch using the PNF “hold-relax” method would look like this: Lie on your back and have someone lift one leg toward the ceiling until you feel a stretch in the back of your lifted leg. Hold there for 10 seconds. Hold and contract your hamstring for six seconds while the other person applies force. Relax and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

Benefits: PNF is used in therapeutic and athletic settings to rehabilitate injuries, improve performance, increase strength, and encourage a full range of motion, according to a research paper. It’s thought that resisting force while stretching and then relaxing into a passive stretch before repeating the contraction sends signals from the nervous system that tell the muscles it’s safe to push further, the paper explains. The contraction builds strength while achieving a deeper stretch improves flexibility and range of motion.

Dynamic Stretching

What It Is: Dynamic stretching involves actively tightening your muscles and moving your joints through their full range of motion, per the HSS. Whereas static stretches are meant to be held for a length of time, dynamic stretches aim to get the body moving. “It’s a way to warm-up the muscle and prepare it for exercise,” Soliman says.

Try It: Walking lunges, leg swings (standing on one leg and swinging the other in front of and behind you through the full range of motion), and torso twists (moving your torso from one side to another without moving your feet or legs) are a few examples of dynamic stretches, per the HSS.

Benefits: According to the HSS, dynamic stretches are functional and sport-specific movements that boost muscle temperature and reduce stiffness, which may improve speed, agility, and acceleration in your chosen activity. In fact, several studies have found short-term increases in power, sprint, or jump performance after athletes performed dynamic stretches, according to a research review.

Other Types of Stretching

Somatic Stretching

What It Is: Even if you’ve never heard of somatic stretching, you’ve likely come across it in commonly associated forms of exercise, such as yoga, pilates, qigong, the Feldenkrais Method, and tai chi.

Somatic stretching differs from other stretching methods in that it doesn’t have a set protocol; you don’t have to target specific muscle groups or hold a stretch for a pre-established length of time. Instead, you release muscular tension by performing gentle movements and staying aware of your body and any sensations that come, Soliman says.

For example, you can arch your back and stretch. As you do, notice where you feel tension and adjust your movements. You can also raise your arms overhead, twist your torso from side to side, or round forward. Because somatic stretching doesn’t require muscle contractions, it may qualify as either passive or active stretching.

Try It: This total-body stretch practice, per Johns Hopkins Medicine’s YouTube channel, uses a mix of held stretches and slow, fluid movements to bring mobility and flexibility to the body.

Benefits: Studies in somatic stretching are lacking. However, this stretching method may improve your mind-body connection, “which can allow people to be more in tune with their body and move in ways their body craves,” Helfrich says. By using slow, controlled movements combined with deep breathing, you may experience reduced muscle tension and pain, improved blood flow to the muscles, and a more relaxed state of mind.


All told, no matter how you stretch, you must do it. Not only does regular stretching improve your flexibility and mobility, but it can also help you prevent injury, prepare for and recover after workouts, age well, and combat stiff, sore, or tense muscles from everyday life.

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