Have you ever noticed that somehow being bendy, flexy and mobile has become synonymous with doing yoga? Do you practice yoga yourself but still haven’t been able to get your splits?
Yoga has many benefits, the connection of breath to body, mediation effects, and deep restorative stretches. But the thing with stretching, and yoga, is that there are so many different types that often the style of stretching we do isn’t in line with what we want to get out of it.
Let’s go over the four most common forms fo stretching.
The FOUR most common types of stretching are Dynamic, Static, Active & Passive.
- Dynamic stretching is stretching done through movement, it’s used to get your joints and muscles warm and gooey. You can think of it like grease on a squeaky door, or well, lube to help things slide around easier. Dynamic stretching is best before a workout or to warm up your muscles before Active or Static stretching. A good example of yoga as dynamic stretching is a Vinyasa Flow where you’re constantly moving through poses but not holding them for extended periods of time.
- Static stretching is the most commonly known form of stretching. It’s when you get your body to a position where you feel a stretch and then simply hold, we tend to gravitate toward it when we feel sore and achy. Static is stretching is best after a workout or some form of movement when your muscles are already warm, or if you’re just trying to feel that nice lengthening sensation in an achy spot, like your neck.
The most common mistake with static stretching is performing it for intense flexibility work without warming up your muscles first. This is a common reason tears and injuries happen.
Active & Passive are the different ways we can perform a stretch.
- Passive is just what it sounds like, a stretch that you don’t really have to work for. In passive stretching, an external force like gravity, a wall, sand bags or another person is applying force to allow the stretch to happen. Without proper warm-up or communication with a partner, this too can be a recipe for injury.
No shade to yoga but a lot of the time yoga is passive or used more for restorative purposes but if you’re trying to improve your flexibility passive stretching isn’t helping you reach those goals. There’s a difference between using a force -like gravity or the floor- to help get you into a position, then using your own muscle strength and mobility to do it.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t perform passive or restorative stretches but, if they’re all you do, it might explain why you aren’t seeing improvements in your flexibility.
Unless you’re working at your end range of motion, it’s not improving your true flexibility.
- Active stretching is a combination of teaching our muscles to relax as well as strengthing them. It involves activating the opposing muscle group to allowing the muscle we’re stretching to relax, like squeezing your quad really hard to release your hamstrings. This helps give us the strength to move into super flexy poses by strengthing our muscle’s current end range of motion.
Let’s take your split for example, on the floor, after properly warming up, you may be able to slide into a split because gravity and the floor are assisting your splits. But, take that bad boy to the pole for a jade, without gravity pushing on you, do you have the strength to pull your legs into a split? That’s the secret sauce of active stretching.
With true active flexibility, you could lift your leg up near your head without the assistance of your hand. The best recipe for improving your flexibility is a combination of both dynamic warm-ups mixed with passive and active static stretches.
Try out this little 6-minute video demonstrating a simple stretch performed both passive and active to help you understand why active stretching is the key to improving true flexibility.