There’s a lot of incorrect (and downright confusing) information about stretching out there. It can leave you with more questions than answers: Is ballistic stretching bad? What’s the difference between active stretching and dynamic stretching – or are they the same thing? It’s understandable if you’re scratching your head.
So, what’s an exerciser to do? Start by determining what you hope to get out of a stretching session. Then learn the different types of stretching.
Consider this your definitive guide to stretching. Use it to find the best types of stretching for your specific needs.
Why should you stretch?
Before you can fully understand the types of stretching, you need to know about the actual benefits of stretching. You might stretch as a part of an exercise routine to help prevent injury, reduce post-workout soreness, and “loosen up”. You may want to improve your flexibility – finally do that split or touch your toes. You might have low back pain and stretch in an attempt to relieve it. Or you may want to get back to moving with greater ease.
Believe it or not, stretching isn’t a fix for all of these goals, although it can help in certain circumstances. When, where, and how stretching might benefit you depends on whether you’re talking about mobility, flexibility, or range of motion. Spoiler alert: they’re not the same thing.
Mobility, simply put, is your ability to move freely. Mobility differs from person to person and is affected by factors like your age, how healthy you are, and if you have an injury. Mobility can also refer to overall movement, like mobility while walking. It can refer to a specific movement pattern, like doing a squat. Or can refer to the mobility of a specific joint, like the right elbow or left knee.
To enjoy a high quality of life, maintaining mobility should be a major and ongoing goal. Exercise programs, including stretching, can play a role in maintaining proper mobility and enhancing or regaining mobility when it’s appropriate. Flexibility may play a role in mobility, but it’s not the same thing.