In this article I compare & contrast static and dynamic stretching, since they are two very different approaches to flexibility training with different outcomes for your muscles as well.
It’s important to know what benefits each type of stretching provide & when best to perform them, and this article shares current insight & recommendations from sports performance experts.
Dynamic vs. static stretching: key points
- Dynamic stretching uses slow but constant movement. Static stretching is motionless as the position is held for anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds.
- Dynamic stretching typically stays well within a movement’s functional range of motion. Static stretching is often performed near the end of the range of motion.
- Dynamic stretching increases muscle temperature & blood flow in preparation for upcoming athletic activity. Static stretching does not increase core temperature or blood flow enough to be considered a sufficient warmup.
- Dynamic stretching is designed to provide flexibility and balance that is sport-specific for the physical event ahead. Static stretching is designed to increase flexibility by reducing muscle & tendon stiffness, and by relaxing the stretched muscle.
- Dynamic stretching beforehand has shown it can enhance performance or have no effect on it. Static stretching before physical performance has impaired strength, explosiveness, & speed in sports science research trials.
- Dynamic stretching is therefore well-suited as part of a warmup routine prior to intense athletics, be it weightlifting, sprinting, sports, etc. Static stretching is best reserved for use after the athletic event, post-workout, or on off days.
Up ahead I provide examples of static & dynamic stretches you can check out.
I’ll also get into the benefits & purposes of each of these flexibility programs, and share how to best use dynamic & static stretching in your weekly fitness routine.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant medical and sports science resources, clinical studies, & nutritional data used in this article.
What is static stretching
*involves slow & passive movement into the stretch
*holds the stretch at or near the end of the range of motion, for a period of 10-60 seconds
*does not warm the body up for activity or prepare muscles for generating force, but rather relaxes the muscles and reduces stiffness in them & their related tendons
*provides both short & long-term improvements to flexibility, since static stretching can elongate a muscle without triggering its stretch reflex (1)
When to do static stretching
Given that it’s a passive activity that is designed to relax muscles, static stretching is a very good choice to do after your workout or sporting event.
As mentioned earlier, static stretching’s not going to warm you up.
So it doesn’t make much sense to perform static stretching before a strength training workout, for example.
But it is perfect for cooling those muscles down after you’re done with the strenuous stuff.
Sports research on static stretching
The results from a number of sports science clinical trials & reviews confirms that static stretching is probably not a good idea before any intense training or athletic event.
Not every study on the subject found that static stretching hurt athletic performance when done prior.
But enough significant negative results exist for most fitness experts to recommend that other forms of flexibility training (like dynamic stretching or PNF) be used before competition or strenuous training instead.
Static stretching reduces strength
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reported that static stretching prior to weightlifting reduced strength by over 8%. (2)
And a very large scale review of over 100 sports science research trials involving static stretching determined that pre-workout static stretching decreased strength, power, & muscular performance.
The average loss of strength across all studies was over 5%. (3)
Static stretching decreases sprint speed
A study using NCAA Division I track & field athletes found that static stretching prior to their sprints hurt their sprint speeds. (4)
The same thing happened in a research trial that tested sprint speeds of elite female soccer players: sprint speeds were slower on the days they did static stretching before their sprints. (5)
And here, the study compared a static stretching plus dynamic stretching warmup to the dynamic stretching routine alone.
Once again, the static stretching groups were always the slower ones. (6)
Static stretching bottom line:
Static stretching is great for long-term flexibility increases and for cooling down & relaxing muscles post-workout.
Static stretching has been shown to diminish performance when done before workouts or athletic events, and it isn’t designed to be a warmup anyway.
So it’s a reasonable idea to avoid using it for our pre-workout or pre-game flexibility routines.
Examples of static stretches
Here is a real nice video from Cori at Redefining Strength in OC, So Cal.
She demonstrates 25 effective static stretches that you can incorporate into your own static stretching routine.
She is simply demonstrating the correct technique for each of these, she’s not running you through the actual routine.
So for example, she’s not doing both sides of any stretch that has a left & right version, nor is she holding the stretches for as long as you’d usually hold them.
She shows us 25 stretches in about 5 and a half minutes.
If you did all 25 stretches for 20-30 seconds or so, including both the left & right sides for those require it, I’m guessing this static stretching routine would run around 20+ minutes in length.
What is dynamic stretching
*is also known as a dynamic warm up
*involves slow but constant movement, as the held portions of the stretches are usually just a few seconds in length at most
*the stretches are performed within the functional range of motion, not out at the maximal point like static stretches are
*is designed to increase our core temperature, stimulate blood flow, and activate the muscles in preparation for the workout or sports event ahead
*often uses the muscles & movements that are specific to the athletic activity upcoming, whether it be weightlifting, cross training, sprints, or a sport
When to do dynamic stretching
Dynamic stretching is a good choice for a warm up routine before the more intensive physical activity ahead.
This is because these types of movements not only get the blood flowing and the body temp up, but also increase flexibility, balance, & muscle elasticity. (7)
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends dynamic stretching movements over other options prior to engaging in sports, cardiovascular exercise, & resistance training. (8)
National Strength & Conditioning Association (NCSA) strength coach Brad Lebo says
“Dynamic warm-up/movement prep will better prepare your muscles to generate force when you workout, practice, or play.
The best warm-up is one in which you use the same movements you will need in those activities.” (9)
Research shows dynamic stretching beats static
We’ve already seen how static stretching is associated with poorer performance results when compared to no stretching.
There are also studies demonstrating that dynamic warmup routines are not only better than static stretches, but that dynamic stretching has also enhanced performance, meaning better results period.
In one study, US Military Academy cadets were tested using 3 exercises:
- T-shuttle run
- medicine ball throw
- 5-step jump
When they performed the dynamic stretching beforehand they posted the best results, compared to when they either did light aerobics or a static stretch routine prior to the testing. (10)
Another study using female participants also compared dynamic stretching to static stretching and an aerobic warmup prior to an athletic test using 3 exercises.
Again, the dynamic stretching scores were the best of the bunch. (11)
Dynamic stretching improved running endurance
Here, well-trained runners who performed dynamic stretching prior to testing posted higher endurance results than the group who did not do the dynamic warm up. (12)
Dynamic stretching boosted jumping power
And finally, there’s this study on lower body explosiveness in collegiate baseball players.
The dynamic warm up increased both the vertical jump height and the long jump distance compared to no warm up and it outperformed the static stretching too. (13)
Researchers concluded by saying
“these findings indicate that athletes could gain nearly 2 in. on his or her vertical jump by simply switching from a static warm-up routine to a dynamic routine.”
Examples of dynamic stretching
Here’s Cori from Redefining Strength with another helpful stretching vid.
This time she’s demonstrating 21 dynamic stretches for your viewing pleasure.
There is a great variety of movements in her video, and you could put together a few really good dynamic warmup routines from her suggestions here.
Choose the exercises best-suited for the muscle groups you’ll be using in your particular workout or sport that day.
Notice her smooth tempo & constant movement; this is what dynamic stretching is all about.
Just a reminder again that she’s not going through “a routine” here, although you certainly could use it as such.
She’s demonstrating a whole bunch of dynamic movements in a short amount of time.
So she’s only performing 1 or 2 reps of each one, whereas you would perform several reps of each one in an actual warmup.
Static vs dynamic stretching FAQs
Here are answers to a couple of the commonly asked questions regarding the differences between dynamic & static stretching.
Is dynamic or static stretching better?
Both dynamic & static stretching have their place in any fitness program. (14)
It’s not a matter of one being better than the other, it’s more that they each provide a different set of benefits for your fitness routine.
As such, to get the most out of them it’s important to perform them at the right times in relation to your sport event, your regular athletic or strength training program, etc.
Should I do dynamic or static stretches first?
Many athletic trainers recommend avoiding static stretching before sports competitions or strenuous training.
Research has shown that static stretching before intense training or athletic competition can hurt your performance either by decreasing your muscular strength, explosiveness, or speed.
Since dynamic stretching involves constant movement and mild muscle resistance, it is a good choice to use as part of a pre-workout or pre-game warmup routine.
It can increase your core temperature, improve blood flow to your muscles, and prepare you for the more intense physical activity to follow.
Is ballistic stretching dangerous?
Ballistic stretching is an old style of warming up that involves bouncing back & forth from a fully stretched position, using your body for momentum to try & extend your range of motion.
(Think of the bending over & bouncing “touch your toes” exercise in P.E. back in the day.)
Most fitness experts recommend avoiding this type of stretching.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says ballistic stretching is not advised for most people due to the increased risk of injury. (15)
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons doesn’t like it either, simply saying
“Do not bounce your stretches. Ballistic (bouncy) stretching can cause injury.” (16)
The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) says
“ballistic stretching…can be harmful to your muscles, tendons, and joints.” (17)
And finally, the American Sports & Fitness Association (ASFA) dedicated a whole article on the dangers of ballistic stretching, calling it “an uncoordinated stretch”.
They recommend static, dynamic, and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) as better alternatives instead. (18)
Moral of the story:“don’t go ballistic”.
I hope that my article comparing dynamic stretching to static stretching is useful to you, and that the provided stretching routines are helpful too.
I wish you well on your fitness journey; let’s go.