The Difference Between Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Find out the key differences when it comes to static vs. dynamic stretching and exactly when to use both to improve your workouts and recovery.

Forward Stretching
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Unless you geek out about warm-ups, your pre-workout routine might include a hodgepodge of stretches that take less than a minute to complete. You might touch your toes for about 15 seconds, do a few high knees, then hold a quad stretch for a breath or two before hopping on the treadmill or picking up the barbell.

But not all stretches are created equal, and you might want to think about your routine with more intention. The reason: Each stretch can be broken down into one of two categories, dynamic stretches or static stretches, and the one you choose to do ahead of a workout and on recovery days could affect your performance and muscle health.

Here, a fitness and recovery expert breaks down everything you need to know about static vs. dynamic stretching, including what each type entails and when to practice them. Plus, you'll find static and dynamic stretches worth incorporating into your recovery routine.

Static vs. Dynamic Stretching, Explained

The main difference between static vs. dynamic stretching comes down to the amount of movement involved — or lack thereof, says Cristina Chan, C.P.T., a corrective exercise specialist and the head of F45's recovery programming. In a nutshell, a static stretch entails holding a specific position that creates tension in the muscle and a "stretching" sensation, while a dynamic stretch involves moving a limb through its full range of motion, according to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy.

In turn, both dynamic and static stretches have different effects on the body. "The static stretching version would be you holding it for a long period of time, which is allowing the muscle in that lengthened position to fully release," says Chan. This style of stretching helps to alleviate any tightness, she says, which may ultimately lead to muscle aches and pain if left untreated, according to the National Library of Medicine.

On the flip side, "a dynamic stretch would involve a period of time where you're releasing and then engaging again," says Chan. "The main focus around it is to create blood flow, get some oxygen moving through the body, and [increase] mobility." And mobility, or a joint's ability to move through its entire range of motion without pain or compensation, is essential: A lack of mobility can cause movement compensations (re: using the wrong muscles to carry out a move), which can lead to muscle imbalances and an increased risk of injury, according to the American Council on Exercise.

The amount of time you perform each stretch also varies. During a static stretch, you might hold your position for one to three minutes, says Chan. "Sitting in that position for a longer period of time really allows the body to let go," she explains. "When you're trying to release a muscle, a knot, whatever it is, that time is much more important." With a dynamic stretch, however, you'd move through a movement for 30 to 45 seconds, which simply helps "wake up" your body, says Chan.

When to Perform Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Generally speaking, you'll want to work through a dynamic stretching routine prior to exercise, says Chan. "Doing [dynamic stretching] before a workout is important to prevent injury," she adds. "It [helps] to have your body be mobile so you don't create an injury during your workout from tight muscles being overextended or quickly used without any warm-up."

While both static and dynamic stretching before a workout increase your joints' range of motion, research shows that with static stretches, this improvement may be caused by an increased tolerance to stretching — not reduced muscle tension, according to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. What's more, powering through static stretching immediately before exercise may decrease muscle strength and performance in running and jumping, studies suggest. Translation: Static stretches just aren't ideal for a pre-workout routine, says Chan. "They aren't going to give you as much of that blood flow and mobility that you need to move," she says.

Most often, you'll want to save static stretching for a recovery day — not a cool-down, says Chan. "Directly after your workout, practicing static stretching probably not going to do much for you, truly," she says. "You might feel a little bit of something right away, but in terms of long-term benefits, it's not going to do a lot." And research backs this up: In a 2021 meta-analysis, study authors found that static stretching post-exercise doesn't enhance recovery when compared to rest. "You're going to get more out of it when you're body is rested and in that homeostatic state," adds Chan. "It can be a part of a recovery day one or two days a week, depending on what your body calls for and how you're feeling, but ultimately it should be a part of your programming."

Tips for Performing Dynamic and Static Stretches

When incorporating dynamic stretches into your pre-workout routine, try to mimic the movements you'll be doing in your actual training session, suggests Chan. If you're about to tackle a lower-body workout that requires a lot of hip and glute movement, for example, you might focus on dynamic stretches that improve hip mobility (such as fire hydrants and leg swings) and activate the glutes (e.g. bridges, frog pumps), she says. On your recovery days, spend some time on static stretches that target areas where you feel particularly tight, says Chan.

Whether you're performing dynamic vs. static stretching, you'll want to use your breath to your advantage, says Chan. "Using the breath to internally expand the ribs from the inside out helps with areas of your body that need expansion," she says. "...I like to use deep, long exhales through a release, so if I'm trying to let go of tension, an exhale [helps] to surrender."

It's also important to tune into your body and get to know the difference between a stretch that hurts so good and a stretch that's actually causing harm. "Generally speaking, a good-feeling stretch is not going to feel sharp or shooting — that's typically a bad sign," says Chan. "If you're getting a jolty feeling in your tendons or areas of your muscles, don't go any further, stop where you're at, and take it super-duper easy and move slowly." But if you're noticing a bit of manageable tension, try to use your breath to gently push 10 to 15 percent deeper into the stretch. Take note of how you're feeling as you do so, and if it feels tolerable, stay within that space, says Chan.

At the end of the day, she says, "listen to your body and listen to yourself — that is your most important tool."

5 Static Stretches to Try

Child's Pose

A. Sit up comfortably on heels.

B. Roll torso forward, keeping hips on heels, and bring forehead to rest on the floor.

C. Lower chest as close to knees as comfortable, extending arms in front, palms facing down. Inhale and exhale, slowly and deeply.

Hold for 1 minute.

Seated Twist

A. Sit upright on the floor with legs extended and hands resting on thighs.

B. Bend left knee, then cross left foot over the outside of right thigh.

C. Bend right knee and position right ankle next to left glute, keeping left knee pointed toward the ceiling and hips square.

D. Extend left arm behind body and place fingertips on the floor behind hips, gently twisting body to left right.

E. Press right elbow against elbow knee, inhale, then exhale while twisting further to the right.

Hold for 1 minute. Switch sides; repeat.

Seated Forward Fold

A. Sit with legs extended in front of body and gently press hip bones into the floor. Draw lower belly up and in.

B. On an inhale, lengthen spine. On an exhale, hinge at hips and fold forward, making sure to keep back straight.

Hold for 1 minute.

Pigeon Stretch

A. From a downward dog, sweep left shin toward the front of the mat, bringing left knee behind left wrist and left ankle behind right wrist. Left shin should be parallel with the top of your mat, and keep left knee outside of left hip.

B. Gently walk right leg back as far as possible, untuck toes and press top of right foot into the floor. Rest fingertips on the floor in front of body and draw shoulders down and away from ears.

Hold for 1 minute.

Seated Reverse Shoulder Stretch

A. Sit up comfortably on heels.

B. Clasp both hands and interlock fingers, palms facing each other, behind back near butt.

C. Keeping back straight and shoulder blades together, gently press arms away from body.

Hold for 1 minute.

4 Dynamic Stretches to Try

Walk Outs

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands at sides. Hinge at hips to fold forward, reaching palms to the floor (bending knees if necessary).

B. Keeping core tight and legs straight, walk hands forward to come to a high plank position. Lower hips to the floor and gently bend upper body backward.

C. Lift hips to return to a high plank, then walk hands back toward feet. Roll up one vertebra at a time to return to the starting position.

Continue for 45 seconds.

Runner's Lunge with Reach

A. Start in a table-top position on the floor with hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees bent and stacked directly under hips, and feet hip-width apart.

B. Lift both knees off the floor and straighten legs to come into a high plank position on palms, squeezing glutes together and engaging core. Actively push away from the floor and maintain a straight line from head to heels.

C. Step right foot forward and place on the floor next to right pinky finger into a lunge. Relax and sink hips and back to sink toward floor.

D. Press into left hand and reach right arm up to the ceiling, gazing toward fingertips, to open chest. Hold for 1 breath.

E. Lower right arm back down to floor, then step right foot back to come into a high plank position. Repeat movement on the opposite side.

Continue for 45 seconds, alternating sides.

Standing Crossbody Hamstring Stretch

A. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended out to sides at shoulder height.

B. Keeping legs straight, hinge at hips and reach left hand to right foot. Reverse the movement to return to standing, then hinge at hips and reach right hand to right foot.

Continue for 45 seconds, alternating sides.

Dynamic Neck Stretch

A. Sit on the floor cross-legged with hands resting on top of knees.

B. Reach right arm overhead and place right hand on left ear.

C. Gently and slowly, tilt head to the right while adding a light pressure. Hold for two full breaths, then release hand from ear and lower arm back to knee. Repeat on the opposite side.

Continue for 45 seconds, alternating sides.

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