There generally are three categories of flexibility stretches: dynamic, static-active, and passive. The different types of flexibility stretches are useful at different times during exercise and each offers the body different benefits. Stretches are generally recommended by professionals before a person undertakes any form of strenuous exercise or bodily exertion.
Dynamic or kinetic stretches use controlled movements to bring a limb or a body part through a whole range of motion. These types of flexibility stretches move that body part though a place of tension and then back out again. Generally, these types of stretches are useful as part of a warm-up routine and can be an active motion such as swinging an arm.
Walking lunges or side lunges are great examples of dynamic stretches that help warm up the body and increase flexibility in the muscles. During a dynamic stretch, some muscles are active and some are not in use. The stretch increases flexibility by training the non-active muscles to relax and stretch when they are not actively in use, instead of resisting the movement. These types of flexibility stretches have been shown to increase performance in explosive or plyometric movements such as sprinting, jumping, and lifting.
Ballistic stretching is a form of dynamic stretching that has fallen out of favor with trainers and experts. In that form of stretching, an individual uses the body’s momentum to bounce forward past the comfortable range of motion. Experts now believe that this type of stretching leads to increased soreness, pain, and even injury.
Static-active stretching is the ability to lift and maintain a pose using only the body’s muscle groups and not external support, such as a band, bar, or chair. These flexibility stretches are difficult to hold for more than 20 seconds, but when practiced as part of a consistent routine, can increase flexibility and endurance significantly. Standing leg lifts are a classic example of a static-active stretch. Bikram Yoga is an entire yoga system based around this special type of stretching, and the discipline of Tai Chi employs many of these types of stretches, as well.
A dancer with a leg propped up on the bar is a perfect example of a static-passive stretch. In this type of flexibility stretch, an individual assumes a position and uses body weight, gravity, another person, or an external prop to maintain the position. These types of flexibility stretches should be a part of any cooldown routine and are often a core part of rehabilitation exercises.
The slow, relaxed stretches help relieve soreness and fatigue and aid in recovery from injury. Isometric and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) are specific types of static-passive stretching. Isometric stretches use resistance from different muscle groups to create tension in stretched muscles. PNF is a technique that was developed in rehabilitation clinics in which a muscle group is passively stretched and then contracted against isometric pressure.