For as long as you can remember, you’ve been told that stretching does your body good both before and after a workout. And, well, on your rest days, too. Not only does stretching relieve unwanted tension, but it helps prevent injuries from your favorite HIIT, boxing or rowing workouts (among other things). Whether you’re hoping to better understand your workout warmup or are considering taking a full-fledged stretching class — yep, they’re a real thing — it’s important to learn the different types of stretching and why they’re so beneficial for your health.
Common stretching terms and definitions
We’ve compiled an A to Z list of helpful stretching terms and concepts that you may want to know before you head to your next class. (And just an FYI, any stretch time is better than nothing. We just had to say it.)
Active Stretching: When you stretch a muscle by actively contracting it in opposition to the one you’re stretching. Most yoga stretches are considered types of active stretching.
Ballistic Stretching: When you use the momentum of a moving body or a limb to force it beyond its normal range of motion. Oftentimes, this is found in warmups where you bounce into (or out of) a stretched position.
Contraction: The abnormal shortening of muscles, which causes limited motion.
Dynamic Stretching: When you stretch by moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. Examples include controlled leg swings, arm swings and torso twists.
Flexibility: The range of motion in a joint or group of joints.
Isometric Stretching: A type of static stretching that involves resistance of muscle groups through isometric contractions (a.k.a. tensing) of the stretched muscles.
Overstretch: The act of stretching a joint or group of joints beyond normal limits.
Passive Stretching: When you find a position and hold it with some other part of your body, or with the help of a partner or apparatus. Splits and leg holds are common examples.
Static Stretching: When you stretch a muscle (or group of muscles) to its farthest point and hold that position.