How many types of stretching are there?
The type of stretching you use would depend on several factors including what exercise or sport you are doing, your physical fitness level, and lifestyle. For many people, stretching simply feels good and helps them feed more confident in exercise or sleep better. Although some websites and textbooks state that there are seven different types of stretching, there are essentially two primary groups with each group having one or more subgroups that share similarities and significant differences.
Static stretching is probably the most familiar type of stretching, where you hold a stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds to the point of mild discomfort. While many coaches and personal trainers would tell you to stretch before you workout or train, there is currently no clear consensus on whether static stretching can reduce your risk of injury, improve strength and power output, or any significant benefits other than gaining a few extra centimeters of flexibility in your hamstrings.
There is some evidence, however, that static stretching could help increase muscle size with weight training.
Dynamic stretching is the other major type of stretching that involves moving your joints within your full range of motion repetitively. Although this is similar to ballistic stretching, where you bounce instead of controlling your movement, dynamic stretching is often used to prepare your body and mind for the upcoming sport or activity that you are going to do. Sample exercises include leg swings, running knee-ups, and push-ups with a twist.
Paul Ingraham of PainScience.com argues that dynamic stretching is not really stretching because it “doesn’t involve elongating muscles to the point of feeling significant tension for several seconds.”
Passive stretching one of two types of static stretching, and there are two ways to do it. One is with another person where your partner holds the stretch for you as you relax—hence the term “passive.” The other way is to use a support to hold that stretch, whether it is with your hands, a wall, the ground, a chair, or a stability ball.
Some say that isometric stretching is different type of stretching, when in fact, it is under the umbrella of static stretching. This involves “the resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (tensing) of the stretched muscles,” according to a MIT website.
Active stretching is the other type of static stretching where you contract the muscle group that is the opposite of the muscles that you are stretching. For example, if you are stretching your quadriceps, you contract your hamstring for a short period of time, then relax, and then contract again while holding that stretch.
This is similar to PNF stretching (proprioceptive neuromuscular faciilitation) and is often done with a partner or a manual therapist.
Considerations about stretching
Because there is a lack of a strong consensus about what stretching can do and does not do, and which type of stretching is best under certain circumstances, you should explore what type works for you and question claims about stretching.
Nobody really argues about stretching if you do it because it feels good. Like individualizing treatments, therapists and trainers should cater to each patient’s or client’s needs instead of making generalizations for everyone.