Stretching: a controversial topic. Does it work or not? And if so, which type of stretch is best? Should you do it before or after workouts? And though there’s much disagreement on the specifics, many experts and trainers do seem to agree that certain types of stretching can be beneficial to our fitness.

The first trick is in figuring out which type of stretching is best for your purposes. The second is learning how to perform those stretches in an optimal manner.

Which stretch is best?

The first point of call is to look at the different types of stretches and see what’s what. To begin, three of the best-known stretch types are static, dynamic, and ballistic. Here are their respective definitions according to the NHS:

“- Static stretch: stretching a muscle to the point of mild discomfort and holding that position, typically for at least 30 seconds or longer.

Dynamic stretch: performing gentle repetitive movements, such as arm swings, where one gradually increases the range of motion of the movement, but always remains within the normal range of motion.

Ballistic stretch: involves going into a stretch and performing bouncing or jerking movements to increase range of motion.”

Though there are wildly varied opinions on the subject, many coaches will advocate the practise of dynamic stretching before any workout.”

Of the above, probably the most popular amongst trainers and casual athletes is dynamic.

Dynamic stretching incorporates movement into your routine. And one of the main advantages of movement is that it warms your muscles up. Compare this to static stretching which, though it does loosen muscles, doesn’t have the same “warming” effect, and so doesn’t prepare your body in the same way that a dynamic stretch will.

Of course, this is not to say that static stretching is bad. In fact, many fitness experts claim that static stretching is the best method for increasing range of movement.

But when it comes to sporting performance, at least, dynamic stretching might just have the edge. Particularly as it subjects the body to slow and gentle variations of the more intense movements that are about to follow during the actual exercise or sport.

On the other end of the scale is ballistic stretching. This takes the principals of dynamic stretching a little further, adding in a “jerking” movement that pushes muscles past their normal range of movement. This distinction is important, as dynamic stretching doesn’t push you beyond your edge like ballistic stretching does. In fact, ballistic stretching is said to carry a higher risk of injury, and many experts advise that non-professionals should stick to dynamic stretching when warming up.

So, in quick summary, it could be argued that a combination of pre-workout dynamic stretching and post-workout static stretching may work as an effective and beneficial combination.

A few rules

There are lots of dos and don’ts when it comes to stretching, but here are a few basic suggestions that you might find helpful:

– Always wait at least an hour after waking up before stretching.

– If you’d like to incorporate both dynamic and static stretching into your routine, perform dynamic before a workout and static after.

– Try not to hold intense stretches for longer than 15 seconds at a time.

– Remember to relax and breathe; holding your breath whilst stretching will tense your muscles, thus defeating the purpose of the exercise.

Some dynamic stretches

You’ll find a huge amount of dynamic stretches out there if you go looking. And there are many different routines designed to suit many different sports and workouts. The main thing to remember, however, is to always warm-up the muscle groups that you’re going to be engaging whilst exercising.

That said, here are a few examples of dynamic stretches to use a general starting point:

 And when you’re done stretching, why not try the Tennis Champ Workout or some good old fashioned plyometric exercises to get a real sweat on?