What is Static Stretching?

A woman stretching.
Woman stretching her sides.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 July 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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Static stretching is a method of stretching a muscle beyond its normal limits, then holding the stretch for anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes. It's often recommended as a way to stretch before vigorous exercise. There has been some debate recently about the benefits of this form of stretching prior to exercise, but many exercise specialists still believe it is worthwhile. Its goal is to gradually increase stretching ability and lengthen muscles, and stretches can be done by anyone, and modified according to flexibility.

There are two forms of static stretching. One is called passive because it requires no effort on the part of the person performing the exercise. The other is called active since it requires effort.

It’s easy to illustrate the differences between a passive and active stretch. For example, a static stretch could involve lying on the ground and lifting one leg in the air, and holding that leg up for 10 to 30 seconds. If the exercise is passive, the leg could rest on a chair, or someone else could hold it up. While this still will stretch muscles in the leg and hip, the person doing the stretch isn’t using the extra muscles required to keep the leg up in place, so the exercise is passive instead of being active.

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There are some good reasons to employ passive static stretching. People who are in comas may have muscles worked in this manner to prevent muscle atrophy. Others who lack strength might simply need help to get a deeper stretch. There’s also some suggestion that passive static stretching may be more effective in warming up the body than active static stretches are.

Most people just perform active static stretching though, and there are a variety of different stretches to do. Lifting both arms above the head and holding them there is a static stretch. Lunges, where the person stays in place and doesn’t bounce are considered static too. Some people compare static stretching to other exercises and disciplines like yoga. It is true that people do get into a position and then hold that position but static stretches are usually much easier and won’t require the degree of knowledge that yoga takes.

When using static stretching before exercise, there are a number of ones to try. Facing a wall and placing one foot up in tilted fashion against it, while the other foot is slightly back can stretch the calf muscles. Side lunges can stretch the muscles in the upper legs and hips. Interlocking the fingers and pushing the hands and arms out behind the back can stretch arms, chest, and shoulders. Given the number of possible stretches and the way in which a person wants to work the body afterward, it’s a good idea to get advice from someone trained in exercise on which stretches are most likely to be of benefit.

It is important to note that any stretch that is static is held in place for several seconds. There is no bouncing. Once a pose is struck, the goal is to not deepen the pose but to remain in place for the requisite time period. The body should move little and effort should simply go toward maintaining the position.

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Is it true that static stretching is not recommended post-exercise, as it can result in injury, particularly after vigorous workouts such as high intensity interval training (HIIT)?

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