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There are many different methods of stretching your body before and after a workout. The most common forms are Static, Dynamic, and Ballistic Stretching. At its most basic essence, stretching is the act of flexing a tendon or muscle group in one direction until a muscular burn is felt and then holding that flex before a final release. Static is the most commonly used form of stretching.
Static Stretching involves passively holding the tendon or muscles under tension to improve flexibility. After the initial pose is struck, little or no movement is involved until the person performing the stretch returns back to their rested state. For many, this might be hoisting their heel up onto a bench at the racetrack to stretch their calf, or a low-impact yoga session at their local studio. Even the simple act of yawning is considered an act of static stretching.
On the other side of the coin is Dynamic Stretching. Dynamic stretches usually involve controlled, active movements of the targeted muscles to increase blood flow to the area all the while also loosening up the muscle fibers. Examples of Dynamic Stretching would be lunges and arm swings. The key to Dynamic Stretching is movement.
However, most have not heard of, nor even tried Ballistic Stretching. Ballistic Stretching is a form of Dynamic Stretching, but takes the movement aspect even further. Mostly practiced by professional athletes and dancers (particularly ballerinas), Ballistic Stretching involves fast bouncing movements using momentum, gravity, or force to flex your muscles to go beyond the range of motion they’re usually accustomed to.
During slower Static Stretches, the pain sensors in our muscles tell us when our bodies have reached a limit as to how far the stretch can go. But with Ballistic Stretching, because the movement involves jerking or bouncing, the targeted muscle group’s normal pain sensors are momentarily bypassed and our fingers, arms, and legs can reach beyond what they’re normally capable of. An example of Ballistic Stretching is a bouncing toe touch or a baseball pitcher rapidly performing practice throws before an inning.
However, because Ballistic Stretching is using quick movement to bypass these pain sensors, there is a heightened risk of pulling or straining a muscle. This type of stretching is not recommended for everyone, and especially not for the physically inexperienced. While well-conditioned athletes and dancers have found Ballistic Stretching to be an important tool as part of their warm-ups, for those new to physical fitness, it’s best to stick with calmer Static movements until your body can better withstand more rigorous flexing.
Check out our movement library of Ballistic Stretches below. Go slow at first and practice them at a pace that feels the most comfortable to you.
Be sure to always consult with your medical practitioner before engaging in more demanding physical activities and stretching. Stretching should produce mild discomfort, but never pain. If pain occurs, stop immediately and don’t push beyond what you’re capable of. There’s no special award given out for pulling a tendon and sidelining yourself from your favorite sport.