Stretching types

Stretching types
by Mladen Jovanovic

First I would love to say that this systematisation presented here is my point of view as a result of a lot of books readed and yet small practical experience, so it is helpfull to me to sort the thing out, but I would love to be helpfull to you guys also, to develop your own point of view…

Stretching and flexibility are NOT synomims! Flexibility is a complex ability that allow athlete to do movement with optimal (not large as somoene would think) ROM. Flexibilty is complex, because it can be one joint-multy joint, passive-active, dynamic-static and it is movement specific, thus being flexible in one joint doesnt mean you will be in other joints (except you have some disturbance in collagen/elastin production – read illness).

Stretching is just one mean to improve flexibility. There are many more means to improve it including strength training, practice/skill itself, massage, warm baths etc etc. Stretching is specifically designed exercise, with its load (volume, intensity) and characteristics that is directed to improve one aspect of flexibility (not flexiility in general).

I made the systematisation based on two criteriums:

  • is the strecth done with the action of muslces that crosses the joint or it is done with external force (active/passive)
  • is the strecth done while moving thru ROM, or is it held at its end (dynamic/static)

So, now we got four types of stretches + one which we would be a various combination of mentioned four.

Passive / Active

Dynamic / Static

Passive-Static stretching is done while holding one joint in its ROM with external force (partner, machine, gravity, action of distance muscles that dont cross the stretched joint). Example is lying on the floor on the back, and pulling the knee to chest with the action of hands. This is a classical stretching method. There are various methods of this stretch based on its duration, intensity etc. This method of stretching will improve passive-statical flexibility, which is not common in most sports, but sometimes can be a limiting factor for improving other types of flexibility, and sometimes can lead to injury if the difference detween passive and active flexibility is too large. This kind of stretch is commonly used in the end of the workout or as a specific workout to improve restoration, blood floow, relaxation etc. Some authorities suggest that this kind of stretchig should not be done in warm-up, but I dont see any problems with it if it is not held too much and/or with great force/intensity, and offcourse if you dont just jump after it to HI training but rather allow progressive transition via dynamic stretches and specific drills to main part of the work-out. It is believed that this kind of stretching can reduce injury rates if it is done in warm-up, but now it is well know that it can (if it is done unproperly) reduce explosive strength, reduce protective myotical refex, create slack in tendons/ligaments, induce cool down, CNS/motivaion shutdown and decrese economy of movement (reduce elasticity) and actually increase injury posibility, but if it is done properly it can provide relaxation in over-stiffed (thight) muslces and loosness and general feeling-good sensation.

Active-Static stretching is done same as passive-static stretch but only with the help of the antagonistic musle(s) that cross same joint. The final position is also held for some time. The example is lying on the floor on back and lifting one leg with the action of hip flexors, thus inducing stretching of hams. In other word, this can be called ROM isometrics. Activation of antagonists reduce neural firing of stretched muscle and reduce it stiffness (resistance to length change) and thus allow better stretch and greater ROM. But I belive that there would be higher incidence of muslce cramps, because anatgonist would be activated in its shortest length, but I dont have scientific reference on this. Also, agonists (stretched muscles) can be activated at the end of their ROM, and according to Zatsiorsky, this kind of isometrical contraction at the end of ROM will have better strength transfer to other joint angles. But, activating agoinst at their ROM will cause tendon stretching and actually can cause injury (on my opinion) and should be avoided. Note that somePNF patterns have simmilar method.

Dynamic-Active stretching is my favourite! It is a movement trough ROM of a particular joint and in same time force generation. For this same reason, full ROM resistance training should be considered as stretching method. Gentle and controled swings and joint circles are also considered as dynamic-active stretching. Note that there may be presented external load (gravity, weight etc.) but sometimes it may not (as in joint circles if we neglect gravity). Kalistenics can also be considered as dynamic-active stretching. This method have most transfer to sport field and should be used in more volume as a warm-up but with the progression from small forces/amplitude/speed to larger one.

Passive-dynamic stretching is the worst method! It uses external loads or short burst of muscle activity to create great momentum over the ROM and try to exceed it. The movement is stoped with the stretching of passive tissue and strong activation of myotatical reflex. The example are uncontroled leg swings when athlete uses greated momentum of the leg to exceed its ROM. The synonim for this method is balistic stretching. This can be very dangerous method for some individuals at particular stage of their career, but it should not be considered as generaly safe/dangerous method. I belive that their usage is very limited, but some sport may actually need this kind of stretching for improving this kind of flexibility.

Note that I made a sharp distinction between dynamic-active (or just dynamic) stretches and passive-dynamic (or just balistic) stretches.

So, this is it! This is my systematisation/classification. It may be confusing for some, but it may actually help someone to make his own! As Charlie stated: There are lots of ways to skin a cat!
Please be free to comment, curse, whatever…

Any opinions on this?
I forgot to include PNF as a combination of the above four groups!

Very useful article! :slight_smile:

Finally, someone :slight_smile:

Great read, Duxx… Informative!

duxx have you read stretching scientifically by tomas kurz (sp?) you’d prob like it what you posted sounds like an excerpt straight from the book

No, I did not! I have read “Science of Flexibility” by Alter, but I have in mind to get Kurz book inlcuding his training theory book! Tnx for the tip!

Kurz is a good read
Simple to the point

Good point, but “stretching” is applied to a group of muscles that cross same joint, while there are other techniques that address the stretching to a kinetic chain (posterior i.e.).
In an old thread i spoke about some European techniques (RPG/Souchard/Mezierès) that work in this way (kinetic chain).

I’ve seen good results from “kinetic chain” stretching for minor postural problems.


I coach HS’rs who really need a lot of prodding to believe in the benefits of stretching, esp. passive/ active static stretching. So, although I use dynamic stretches, I make them put stretching into their daily workout pre and post w.o. This way they begin to do it w/o much prodding by the end of the year and it helps a lot with relaxing their own anxieties. I have read many articles and had discussions saying that static pre workout is antiquated, and I agreee that the science is duly noted. However I also believe that coaching youngsters is also about coaching confidence, familiarity with their own body as an athlete, and controlling anxieties.
After all the duckies and bunnies stuff, I am just saying that stretching has a lot of benefits for beginning and amateur athletes that will not be captured in books and video. I really appreciate your article. Not just because I agree, but it does not totally deflate a notion I that I believe has dramatically minimized the injuries to my athletes.