By Michelle Steege PT, DPT
Stretching has been a hot topic for years, and there are still a number of unanswered questions and inconclusive data regarding it. What we do know is there are many different ways to stretch and there are benefits—most notably increasing flexibility and joint mobility. The amount of flexibility and mobility we need depends on the activities that we intend to participate in. A gymnast’s required flexibility is going to be much different than a football player. Additionally, our habits and activities can contribute to areas of less flexibility (ex: sitting at a desk 8 hours a day means your hip flexors are in a shortened position for prolonged periods of time).
Static or Active Stretching?
Evidence has shown increases in flexibility when using both static and active stretching techniques. For example, one study compared active knee flexion/extension versus static stretching of the hamstring and found both groups significantly increased flexibility compared to control (1). The benefit of active stretching may be that you can work on strengthening areas of weakness with the same exercise. For example, if someone has decreased flexibility in their hip flexors, performing a bridge may be beneficial to work into a motion that stretches the hip flexors while strengthening the glutes. Based on the concept of reciprocal inhibition, the hip flexors will relax as the glutes are contracted. On the other hand, static stretching may be beneficial if someone is unable to tolerate an active stretch or if stretching is being performed after a bout of aerobic exercise. It should be noted; ballistic stretching (bouncing at end range) is not recommended due to risk of injury. Static stretching should be performed after an active warm up.
Dynamic Warm Up
Warming up prior to activity is important to prepare the body for exercise. A warm up should target or mimic the specific activities that will be performed during a workout or athletic event. This will typically involve dynamic (active) stretches, but may also include exercises working on mobility or activation of specific muscles. As mentioned earlier, if static stretching is going to be part of a warm-up, it should be performed after an active warm up.
About Dr. Michelle Steege, PT, DPT:
Michelle is passionate about the profession of physical therapy, which allows her to help people return to the activities they love. Her experience in a hospital-based
outpatient orthopedic setting has given her the opportunity to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions and sports injuries. Michelle began her orthopedic residency at Motion in 2017, further advancing her knowledge in the world of physical therapy. She also has training in instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) and running analysis.
Michelle earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire in exercise science. She then attended the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas where she earned her doctorate in physical therapy.
In her free time, Michelle enjoys being outdoors—running, biking, hiking, kayaking, and spending time at the cabin in northern Wisconsin.
- “Comparison of Nonballistic Active Knee Extension in Neural Slump Position and Static Stretch Techniques on Hamstring Flexibility”. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 1997 26:1, 7-13