What is Static Stretching?

The pro’s, con’s and definitions. Including how to do a static stretch, the 5 types of static stretching and static stretching examples.

by Brad Walker | First Published July 23, 2009 | Updated June 27, 2019
The term static stretching (or static stretches) refers to any stretch that is performed without movement.

In other words, the individual gets into the stretch position and holds the stretch for a specific amount of time. Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of stretching with a limited threat of injury. It is a good choice for beginners and sedentary individuals.

What is static stretching?

What is Static Flexibility?

The term static flexibility refers to an individual’s absolute range of motion that can be achieved without movement. In other words, how far we can reach, bend or turn and then hold that position. Static flexibility is sometimes referred to as passive flexibility.

How is Static Stretching Different from Dynamic Stretching?

Although there are many different ways to stretch, they can all be grouped into one of two categories; static or dynamic.

The main difference between static stretching and dynamic stretching is that dynamic stretches are performed with movement. In other words, the individual uses a swinging or bouncing movement to extend their range of motion (ROM) and flexibility. While static stretches are performed without movement.

Many different ways to stretch

Just as there are many different ways to strength train, there are also many different ways to perform a stretch. However, it is important to note that although there are many different ways to stretch, no one way, or no one type of stretching is better than another. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the key to getting the most out of stretching lies in being able to match the right type of stretching to the purpose, or goal you are trying to achieve.

Hierarchy of Static Stretching Exercises
For example; For warming up, dynamic stretching is the most effective, while for cooling down, static and passive are best. For improving range of motion, try a combination of long-hold static stretching and PNF stretching, and for injury rehabilitation, Active Isolated stretching, PNF, Isometric and Active stretching will give the best results.

5 Types of Static Stretching

Listed below are five different types of static stretches.

  • Static Stretching: Static stretching is performed by placing the body into a position whereby the muscle (or group of muscles) to be stretched is under tension. Both the antagonist, or opposing muscle group and the agonist, or muscles to be stretched are relaxed. Then slowly and cautiously the body is moved to increase the tension of the muscle (or group of muscles) being stretched. At this point the position is held or maintained to allow the muscles to lengthen. A minimum hold time of about 20 seconds is required for the muscles to relax and start to lengthen, while diminishing returns are experienced after 60 seconds. Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of stretching with a limited threat of injury. It is a good choice for beginners and sedentary individuals.
  • Passive (or Assisted) Stretching: This form of stretching is very similar to static stretching; however another person or apparatus is used to help further stretch the muscles. Due to the greater force applied to the muscles, this form of stretching is slightly more hazardous. Therefore it is very important that any apparatus used is both solid and stable. When using a partner it is imperative that no jerky or bouncing force is applied to the stretched muscle. So, choose a partner carefully, the partner is responsible for the safety of the muscles and joints while performing the stretch. Passive stretching is useful in helping to attain a greater range of movement, but carries with it a slightly higher risk of injury. It can also be used effectively as part of a rehabilitation program or as part of a cool down.
  • Active Stretching: Active stretching is performed without any aid or assistance from an external force. This form of stretching involves using only the strength of the opposing muscles (antagonist) to generate a stretch within the targeted muscle group (agonist). The contraction of the opposing muscles helps to relax the stretched muscles. A classic example of an active stretch is one where an individual raises one leg straight out in front as high as possible and then maintains that position without any assistance from a partner or object. Active stretching is useful as a rehabilitation tool and a very effective form of conditioning before moving onto dynamic stretches. This type of stretching is difficult to hold and maintain for long periods of time and therefore the stretch position is usually only held for 10 to 15 seconds.

Reciprocal Inhibition: Also known as Sherrington’s law of reciprocal innervation, explains how a muscle will relax when its opposite muscle is activated. So by contracting one muscle group (agonist) it will force the opposing muscles group (antagonist) to relax. This is precisely what is occurring during Active Stretching.

  • PNF Stretching: PNF stretching, or Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, is a more advanced form of flexibility training that involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being targeted. PNF stretching was originally developed as a form of rehabilitation and for that function it is very effective. It is also excellent for targeting specific muscle groups, and as well as increasing flexibility, (and range of movement) it also improves muscular strength. There are many different variations of the PNF stretching principle and sometimes it is referred to as Contract-Relax stretching or Hold-Relax stretching. Post Isometric Relaxation (PIR) is another variation of the PNF technique. The area to be stretched is positioned so that the muscle (or muscle group) is under tension. The individual then contracts the stretched muscle group for 5 – 6 seconds while a partner (or immovable object) applies sufficient resistance to inhibit movement. The effort of contraction should be relevant to the level of conditioning. The contracted muscle group is then relaxed and a controlled stretch is applied for about 30 seconds. The athlete is then allowed 15 to 30 seconds to recover and the process is repeated 2 – 4 times.
  • Isometric Stretching: Isometric stretching is a form of passive stretching similar to PNF stretching, but the contractions are a lot stronger and held for a longer period of time. Isometric stretching places high demands on the stretched muscles and is not recommended for children or adolescents who are still growing. Other recommendations include allowing at least 48 hours rest between isometric stretching sessions and performing only one isometric stretch per muscle group in a session. To perform an isometric stretch; assume the position of the passive stretch and then contract the stretched muscle for 10 to 15 seconds. Be sure that all movement of the limb is restricted. Then relax the muscle for at least 20 seconds. This procedure should be repeated two to five times.

Confusion about Static Stretching

For over 20 years I’ve been fighting against the “Static Stretching is Bad” mind-set that has invaded the health and fitness industry. The “scientists” have been telling us that… “static stretching is bad” “static stretching causes injuries” and that… “static stretching should NOT be included as part of a warm up.”

Well, apparently they’ve changed their minds. Click on the video below to see what they’re saying now…

Transcript from video (click to open)
So, the science gurus have changed their minds once again. And what am I referring to? I’m referring to the studies that have been done over the last 15, 20 years in relation to static stretching. Now, if you’ve kept up with any of these studies you’ll know that the recommendations for the last 15 to 20 years is that static stretching should be avoided. Static stretching is bad. Static stretches cause injuries. You shouldn’t do static stretching as part of a warm-up. All of these things that I’ve been against for the last 20 years now, the scientists have come out and said…

Oh, hang on, we were wrong! Static stretching isn’t as bad as we thought it was.

So recently in March, a new study came out. Actually, it wasn’t a new study it was a review of existing studies. And it came up with the conclusion I actually read it straight from the study here, I’ve got the study here and I’ll actually give you a link down below to the study if you want to read it yourself. But what was the conclusion of this new study or new review?

The conclusions of the systematic review, contradict common recommendations from the last 15 years and highlights several misconceptions and limitations in the literature.

Wow! Something I’ve been saying for the last 20 years and the scientists have just got around to it. So anyway, this new study or this new review; it’s gone back over the last 15, 20 years. It’s had a look at all the research that’s being done and it’s reviewed the research and come up with new findings.

So, they haven’t discovered anything new. They haven’t come up with a new way of doing things. All they have done is gone back and had a look at the old studies and they’ve concluded the opposite of what the studies concluded over the last 15 or 20 years. So in effect what they’re saying now, is that static stretching isn’t as bad as we thought it was. It isn’t as bad as we’ve been telling everyone it is. So all those recommendations that we’ve made over the last 15 or 20 years as far as avoiding static stretching or not doing static stretching, we’ve actually changed our mind now and static stretching is okay to do.

So, it’s funny they came up with a new program for using stretching as part of their warm-up. Now in the past, the scientists have told everyone that static stretching should be avoided during the warm-up, which is contradictory to what I recommend and have been recommending since about 1995 when I published my first book and I was actually using it for at least five or six years before that, before I even published anything. So what’s happened is my recommendation, as far as using static stretching in the warm-up, is static stretching should be used early in the warm-up and should always be followed by either sport specific drills or dynamic warm-up or dynamic stretching and that sort of stuff. So now, the scientists are telling us that you should do a general warm-up first then some static stretching then do some like, sports specific drills and more agility stuff and then follow it up with some dynamic stretching, which is actually the exact thing I’ve been recommending for the last 20 years. In fact, their warm-up that they recommend as part of their new research findings, I could almost sue them for plagiarism because it’s almost word for word what I’ve been recommending for all this time.

So, what am I saying? I’m saying you can’t always trust the literature that’s out there. And although in the past I’ve been very diplomatic, I’ve been very polite as far as this research, all the research over the last 20 years has been concerned. I haven’t really criticized anyone, I certainly haven’t abused anyone, which is contrary to what I’ve copped over the last 20 years. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I’ve received from people who have told me I’m an idiot, I don’t know what I’m talking about. Emails that say, haven’t you read the latest research? The research says you shouldn’t do static stretching. You know, I have copped e-mails from people calling me all sorts of names and telling me that I don’t know anything about stretching and all this sort of stuff. And in the past, I’ve just copped it on the chin and haven’t said anything. But you know what? These guys are absolute morons who sit behind a desk all day and have no practical experience or no practical knowledge of how to use stretching. You’ve got these muppets who the only experience or the only work they actually do with athletes is when they step out from behind their desk; maybe they go stand on the side of a football field for half an hour with a stopwatch and a clipboard taking notes and then they rush back to their computers and play with pie graphs and charts and all sorts of other rubbish.

And you know what? These people are actually harming the advancement of sport. And I’m all for good scientific research but the problem is that there are so many people out there doing this research, you know, just for grants basically. That’s all they’re interested in is getting their next lot of grant money. Doing these ridiculous studies that prove these studies actually advertise the stupidity of the people doing the studies because if they actually had any knowledge of what they were doing, they wouldn’t be doing these studies to start with.

So in the past, I’ve been very I’ve taken a back foot to speaking out against these studies but the damage that these studies have done over the last 20 years, 20 years these scientists have been telling people to avoid static stretching and that it’s bad for you. 20 years they’ve been telling people this stuff and now all of a sudden they come out and say oh, sorry. We got it wrong. Hope we didn’t hurt anybody. Well, for 20 years you’ve been mucking people around so, I am speaking out against these so-called scientists now. Most of you should go get a job at McDonald’s because you really don’t know what you’re doing as far as scientific research is concerned.

So anyway, I’ve had my little rant. I’ll leave some links down below to the study if you’d like to read it yourself. I’ve spoken on this topic before, quite a number of times and I’ll also leave some links below to some of my previous videos if you’d like to have a look at, you know. One of the videos I did was about why I believe the research is flawed and you know, I point out a couple of the protocols in the research that make it flawed. So I’ll leave some links to that as well. So anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my little rant. I don’t usually get too emotional on my videos so I thought I’d let loose a little bit this time and just tell people how I really think. So anyway, thanks for watching. Take care and I’ll see you next time. Bye for now.

And I was also greatly encouraged to see an article by well respected strength coach, Michael Boyle, on the topic.

I was impressed by Michael’s balanced view on the subject and asked him if I could re-print his article here. He agreed; and his article is below. I hope you enjoy… The Static Stretching Renaissance.

The Problem…

In the field of strength and conditioning the pendulum always swings. Performance enhancement expert Alwyn Cosgrove is fond of saying we over-react in the short term and under-react in the long term. A classic example is the use of, or current disdain for, static stretching. Static stretching has gone from the best way to warm-up to something that no one should ever do again. This illustrates Cosgrove’s short-term overreaction and long term under-reaction concept.

Research in the eighties demonstrated that static stretching prior to exercise could decrease power outputs. This led to a huge overreaction; the elimination of static stretching and the birth of dynamic warm-up. This was both a plus and a minus. Dynamic flexibility work has been a huge plus in the performance world as a warm-up technique. The reality is that static stretching was a poor way to warm-up for exercise and that dynamic flexibility or active warm-up is superior. However, the net effect was a total disdain for static stretching at any time, for any purpose. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

One side of the truth is that an active warm-up prior to high intensity exercise is the best way to prevent acute injury. In other words, if you want to decrease hamstring and groin pulls, you need to perform dynamic flexibility exercises prior to practice, games or lifting sessions.

However, there is also truth on the other side of the coin. A lack of flexibility seems to be a causative factor in many of the gradual onset injury conditions that plague today’s athletes. Overuse problems like patella-femoral syndrome, low back pain, and shoulder pain seem to relate strongly to long term tissue changes that don’t respond to dynamic stretching.

The fact is that athletes need a combination of both active warm-up exercises and static stretching. For many coaches, the solution was active warm-up before exercise and static stretching after. Although this seems realistic, the process is somewhat flawed. Post-workout stretching does not seem to produce gains in flexibility. The key may lie in performing static stretching near the beginning of the workout, followed by dynamic warm-up. Static stretching would be done to increase flexibility while the muscle is most prone to increase in length. Dynamic warm-up would follow to prepare the muscles for exercise. Coaches need to think about length changes for long-term injury prevention and dynamic warm-up for short term injury prevention. Both are critical.

The Answer…

1) Foam roll for 5 minutes to decrease the density of the muscle. Muscles respond to injury and overuse by increasing in density. This increased density is often referred to as a knot or a trigger point. The techniques used to relieve knots are referred by many names. Massage, Active Release Technique (ART), Muscle Activation Technique (MAT), or soft tissue mobilization are all terms used to apply to techniques used to change the density of a muscle. The foam roll is “the poor mans massage.” Foam rolling is a great way to get changes in the density of the muscle prior to stretching. I like to think of foam rolling as ironing for the muscles, a necessary precursor to stretching.

2) Static stretch. Yes, static stretch. Yes, before the workout. Once the tissue density has been dealt with, we can work on changing the length. Strangely enough most top soft tissue experts are now recommending that muscles be stretched “cold”, without the benefit of a warm-up. Simply roll and stretch. The theory is that warm muscle simply elongates and returns to its normal length. Cold muscle may in fact undergo some plastic deformation and increase in length. I like static stretches that make it easy for athletes to stretch. One reason athletes don’t like to stretch is that it’s hard. Stretches that allow an athlete to use body weight and positioning to their advantage are a big plus for athletes.

Stability Ball Pike Stretch

Stability Ball Straddle Stretch

Stability Ball Hip Rotator

Partner Stretch – Glutes and Hips
The first series of videos illustrates the use of the stability ball to maintain lumbar lordosis, an idea I got from the legendary Al Vermeil. The second set shows a partner technique.

3) Dynamic warm-up.

The process for my athletes every day is the same. Foam roll to decrease knots and trigger points. Static stretching to work on increasing flexibility. Follow that up with a dynamic warm-up.

Rules for Static Stretching

For static stretches I have a couple of basic rules.

  • Positioning is everything. Be specific about how you want someone to stretch. Most people don’t stretch; they just try to look like they are stretching.
  • Good stretching is uncomfortable but, not painful. Know the difference. A little discomfort means you are well positioned.
  • Use different techniques. Activate the antagonist; do long statics; use active stretches.
  • Use the athlete’s bodyweight to assist. Make them both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time.
  • Stretch all areas. Don’t focus on one. We make sure we include one for each of the following – Adductors – Hip flexors – Lateral Hamstring – Hip Rotators

Carolina Hurricanes Trainer and Strength Coach Peter Freisen has a theory. He thinks it is more dangerous to be overly flexible in one muscle group than to be tight in all of them. Don’t just do the stretches you like or are good at, in fact maybe eliminate or abbreviate the ones you are good at and work harder on the ones you don’t like.

Bottom line: Stretching is highly underrated. If you want to be healthy long term, add some good old-fashioned stretching to the workout.

This article was originally published in STACK Magazine. For more information and articles on all aspects of strength and conditioning, visit Michael’s site. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © Michael Boyle

Want more Static Stretches?

While the recommendations on this page are a good place to start, you'll get a lot more benefit when you add the right stretches to your training program. With the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility you'll...

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You'll get 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretches for every major muscle groups in your body. Plus, the DVD includes 3 customized sets of stretches (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core. And the Handbook will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly and safely. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly.

If you want to improve your flexibility and loosen up stiff, tight muscles fast, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.

Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.

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