Not sure when to hold a stretch and when to move through it? Here’s everything you need to know about dynamic and static stretching, explained by fitness trainers, and which moves you should add to your workout.
Getting the most out of your training is never just about how many reps you do in the gym. To really reap the benefits of exercising, we need to think about how we support our bodies to move optimally through those squats, deadlifts and pull-ups. That can be done through getting adequate nutrition, enough rest and recovery, and also prepping the body pre-workout and winding down properly afterwards.
Yep, that means mobilising, stretching and releasing our muscles and joints. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. But with all the potential different postures, flows and poses, it can make working out how to warm-up and cool down pretty confusing.
There are some key differences that we need to take into account when choosing which stretches are right at any given time though. Most crucially, we need to consider whether they are dynamic or static.
What is the difference between dynamic and static stretching?
“When we do dynamic stretching, we aren’t holding that stretch but we’re moving up and down or in and out,” says Kaoutar Hannach, personal trainer and functional exercise coach.
Moves like these are best done first thing in the morning or before working out, as they increase the blood flow into muscles, get the synovial fluid moving around the joints and help our body ease into movement.
Static stretching, on the other hand, is all about improving flexibility and releasing tension. This is the sort of stretching you might associate with yoga classes, such as lying in pigeon pose for a significant period of time.
But static stretching is also crucial to do after exercising “as it can release stress, reduce muscle tightness and, after elongating muscles during training, it restores them back to their original resting length, which is crucial for flexibility,” says Kaoutar.
While static stretching might feel like you’re getting the best release, it shouldn’t really ever be done before training. “Post-workout, your muscles are warm and most likely to respond to the stretches, so there’s a lower risk of injury. But pre-workout, your body is not prepared for deep stretching,” Kaoutar explains.
The best dynamic stretches
Dynamic stretches should always be tailored to what movements you are prepping the body for, explains Kaoutar. For example, if you are getting ready to squat, you should focus on doing stretches that involve hip, knee and ankle work, such as a deep squat hold. But if you don’t know where to start with dynamic stretches, these are some of Kaoutar’s favourites.
These get blood flow to the hamstrings and shoulders without collapsing into a deep stretch.
- From standing, simply take your hands down to the floor and walk them out to a high plank position, before walking them back towards your feet and standing up to the starting position.
Low lunge reaches
Otherwise known as ‘the world’s greatest stretch’, which is reason enough to give it a go, this works into the hips, back, chest and shoulders.
- From a plank position, bring one foot forward so you’re in a low lunge.
- Lift the arm on the same side off the floor, reaching it towards the sky, then twist back down.
- Move through those twisting positions to keep it dynamic.
This works through the back of the legs and upper body to release tightness before you train.
- Place one foot slightly in front of the other, with the heel on the ground.
- Lean forward as you sweep your hands either side of the front foot, all the way up to standing so your hands are reaching up to the sky.
- Step forward so your other foot is in front and repeat.
The best static stretches
These can be held for as long as feel comfortable to release tightness. They’re also good to do before bed to help you relax, as your muscles should be warm from the day’s movement by then.
- Sitting upright, bring the heels of your feet together and press your knees into the floor – you can use your elbows here if it helps you deepen the stretch.
- This gets really deep into the hip flexors and adductor muscles, which can easily get tight from training or sitting down for extended periods of time.
“As we are frequently sat down, it’s great to open up the back of the body and release tension through the chest,” says Kaoutar.
- Lying face down with your hands next to your shoulders, squeeze the shoulder blades together as you lift your head and chest off the floor.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).