What is active stretching?

Active Stretching
Active stretching helps loosen muscles so that you can keep getting better with each session.

Active stretching involves solely activating the muscles in the group that the pose is intended to target while keeping a position. You will use the muscles in your abs to maintain a pose, for example, if the purpose is to stretch them.

  • Active stretching is designed to help athletes warm up their muscles and joints before physical exercise, as well as increase overall performance, rather than just focusing on greater overall flexibility.
  • The muscle contraction that causes the opposing muscles to relax and stretch is the active component. An example of this would be to lift your leg using your quadriceps and hip flexors to loosen and stretch your hamstrings.
  • As the opposing muscles contract, the body uses a mechanism called reciprocal inhibition to inhibit (relax) the antagonist’s muscles.

How it works

Active stretching involves contracting one muscle to extend another without the need for external force. You can create resistance without any equipment, which is a big advantage. Active stretches are typically held for 10 to 15 seconds.

Stretching, in this way, helps increase the flow of blood to your muscles. As a result, it is an excellent supplement to your warm-up and cooldown routine. It can be used in a mobility workout or yoga.

Active stretching vs other stretches

Passive stretching

Your muscles and connective tissues can relax with passive stretching. You will use an external force to produce the resistance for the stretch. This outside force could be a training tool (such as a resistance band) or a training partner. The stretch should be held for 15 to 30 seconds.

Examples of passive stretches include:

  • Butterfly stretches
  • Doorway stretches
  • Standing quad stretches
  • Supine single-leg stretches

Dynamic stretching

You should include dynamic stretches in your warm-ups before your workout. A body part will be moved across its whole range of motion. This can ease tight muscles and increase flexibility.

Examples of dynamic stretching include:

  • High kicks
  • T push-ups
  • Knee-to-chest
  • Lunges with a twist
  • Hip stretches with a twist

Ballistic stretching

Ballistic stretches use rapid motions to concentrate on a particular muscle area. They need repeated bouncing or jerking motions, which extend a body part's range of motion.

Ballistic stretching can cause injury according to various studies. Therefore, orthopedic surgeons warn against these. These stretches are not recommended for beginners in fitness. Before trying them, you should speak with a physical therapist.

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7 benefits of active stretching

  1. Less tightness:
    • Everyone has experienced the muscle tightness that follows a heavy workout. Pushing yourself is a wonderful sign, but it is something you should not overlook.
    • If you want to increase your performance, you must let go of this tension.
    • Active stretching helps loosen muscles so that you can keep getting better with each session.
  2. Better circulation:
    • Stimulates muscles gently, which increases blood flow. Additionally, it helps promote the activity of your muscles' mechanoreceptors.
    • Increased circulation brings more oxygen to your muscles, enhancing their performance and the health of the body. Healthy muscles can help you live longer.
  3. Personal stretching:
    • Normal passive stretching exercises are designed to be a universal strategy that everyone can do. Although these exercises may improve flexibility, they would not target your aches and pains.
    • Active stretching is a personalized strategy. You will concentrate on the muscles that you most require for your chosen sport or the ones that are bothering you. To help you target the proper muscles, it is a good idea to work with a professional or physiotherapist.
  4. Relieving pain:
    • You will probably experience one important advantage immediately, which is increased circulation in your muscles and a reduction in perceived stress.
    • Dynamic stretching exercises help relieve pain. This is especially true for athletes who have sustained an injury and are recovering through active stretching.
    • Using devices, such as VibraCussor, which generates compression waves that release fascial and deep muscular adhesions, can help with muscle soreness.
  5. Improved flexibility:
    • You could only be targeting a tiny section of your body's muscles with your static stretching routine of toe touches and lunges, and they are probably not increasing your range of motion enough.
    • However, with active stretches, you exert stretching force using opposing muscle groups. This increases general flexibility and necessitates actively stretching the joint across its present range of motion.
  6. Boost performance:
    • Performance improvement is the common goal of all stretching techniques.
    • You will be enhancing muscle performance where you need it most with active stretching. Improved performance in your chosen sport will result from this.
  7. Improved posture:
    • According to a 2015 study, strengthening certain muscles while simultaneously stretching certain ones will help you stand straighter. In addition, the study found that participants' musculoskeletal pain levels decreased. However, more research is required to demonstrate the benefits of physical stretching alone.

How to do active stretching

Once you get the fundamentals, active stretching is quite easy.

Here is a starting point:

  1. Choose the muscle you want to stretch
  2. Engage the muscle that is the agonist (the muscle on the other side from the one you wish to stretch)
  3. Hold in the position for 15 to 30 seconds
  4. Repeat the stretch on the opposite side of your body if the muscle you are stretching has a counterpart on the opposite side of your body

As you stretch, you might experience burning or tingling. However, you should feel pain, so stop if it pains. A strain or sprain can result from overstretching.

5 best active stretching exercises for 5 body parts

  1. Glutes: Your buttock is made up of three muscles, collectively referred to as glutes.
    • Lie down on the ground and cross your legs in front of you.
    • Cross your right knee over your left thigh by bending it.
    • Place your right foot flat on the ground.
    • Position your left elbow against your right thigh outside.
    • Gently twist to the right with your upper body.
    • Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
    • Switch sides.
    • Tip: Your neck should not hurt after doing this stretch. Do not exert too much pressure.
  2. Triceps: Your upper arm's back is home to your triceps. From your shoulder to elbow, they extend.
    • Keep your back straight and stand tall.
    • Without lifting your shoulders, extend your left arm upward toward the ceiling.
    • Slightly flex your elbow so that your hand is just inside your shoulder blades.
    • Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
    • Switch sides.
    • Keep your elbow pointing upward and toward the ceiling, as much as possible.
  3. Chest: Your pecs will mostly benefit from this stretch. However, your biceps should be able to feel it.
    • Take a straight stance.
    • Make a 90-degree angle with both of your arms out to the sides.
    • As you extend your arms behind your body, spread them as widely as you can.
    • Avoid bending your back and make sure it stays straight.
    • Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
    • If you truly want to feel the burn, put your hands up and toward the ceiling.
  4. Quads: On the front of your thighs, there are four muscles collectively known as the quadriceps.
    • Maintain a straight back and a tall posture.
    • Stand with your feet hip distance apart.
    • Raise your left foot behind you while bending your left knee.
    • Try to touch your butt with your heel.
    • Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
    • Switch sides.
    • For balance, rest your hand on a chair or a wall.
  5. Hamstrings: The muscles that extend from the knee to the thigh on the back of your leg are called hamstrings.
    • Lie on your back.
    • Set your legs straight on the ground.
    • Extend your left leg toward the ceiling.
    • Keep your leg straight until your hamstrings start to ache.
    • Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
    • Change sides.
    • Tip: If your tailbone begins to tuck in, slightly lower your raised leg. Additionally, you can add your opposing foot as additional support.

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Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2022
References
Image Source: Getty images

The Truth About Stretching. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-stretch

Warm Up, Cool Down and Be Flexible. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/warm-up-cool-down-and-be-flexible

Immediate effect of passive and active stretching on hamstrings flexibility: a single-blinded randomized control trial. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4668158/

Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3273886/

Stretching: Focus on flexibility. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931

5 huge benefits of stretching: learn the advantages of flexibility. https://blog.nasm.org/the-benefits-of-stretching