Flexibility describes the range of movement at a joint, and a good level of flexibility is important in sports, both for preventing injury and optimum performance. Different types of stretching include static, dynamic, PNF, ballistic, partner assisted and more. Here we explain the benefits and types of stretching exercises and the muscles stretched.
On this page:
- Benefits of stretching
- Types of stretching explained
- Stretching for specific injuries
- Stretching exercises by body area
- Hypermobility - can I be too flexible?
Benefits of stretching
Flexibility is the range of movement at a joint and means the same as mobility or suppleness and is important in sport for preventing injuries. A balanced, flexible athlete is less likely to make demands of joints and muscles beyond their natural or comfortable range of movement. A range of factors will determine how flexible an athlete is, including type of joint, muscle and tendon elasticity, laxity of ligaments, age, gender, previous injuries, and environmental factors such as temperature or air pressure.
Stretching has a number of benefits including increasing range of motion, preventing injury, preventing DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness, improving posture, stress relief and improving sports performance.
Read more on the benefits of stretching.
Types of stretching
There are a number of different types of stretching exercises which can be done to improve flexibility.
Static stretching is where the muscle is stretched until a gentle 'pull' or stretch on the muscle is felt then held for a period of time, usually upwards of 10 seconds. Stretches should always be pain-free because if pain is felt then the muscle will naturally want to tighten to protect itself. It is often used to develop flexibility, particularly after a muscle strain injury. In strong healthy muscles PNF type techniques may be better for developing flexibility.
Dynamic stretching is very much in fashion these days, particularly in sport for warming up, and involves stretching the muscles whilst moving, either by leg swings, or by doing sports specific drills. It works 'with' sensors in the muscle called muscle spindles which sense the speed a muscle is being stretched. A muscle can be statically flexible but if asked to suddenly move at speed then muscle spindles may kick in to prevent stretching and protect the muscle.
PNF/Muscle energy techniques - propriceptive neuromuscular facilitation is where muscles alternate between contracting statically to put the muscle under tension, then relaxing into a progressive stretch. This method also works with the sensors or proprioceptors in the muscle.
Ballistic stretching is where the end range of movement of the joint is forced. Although generally frowned on these days because the act of forcing a muscle beyond its comfortable range may damage it, it may be used by Ballet dancers or martial artists where extreme joint range of movement is required.
Neural stretching refers to stretching the structures of the nervous system, for example, sciatic nerve stretches.
Read more on types of stretching.
Stretching exercises by body area
Foot & ankle stretching exercises
Stretching exercises for the foot, ankle & shin, including the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), Tibialis Anterior, Extensor Digitorum Longus, Extensor Hallucis Longus, peroneal muscle, and plantar fascia. These stretches are important for recovering from lower leg injuries, including plantar fasciitis, shin splints, calf strains, achilles tendon injuries and ankle sprains.
- Shin Stretch (play video)
- Standing Shin Stretch
- Advanced Shin Stretch
- Calf Stretch (play video)
- Soleus Stretch (play video)
- Advanced Soleus Stretch
- Peroneal Stretch (play video)
- Plantar Fascia Stretch
Read more on stretching exercises for the lower leg & foot.
Thigh stretching exercises
Stretching exercises for the quadriceps and hamstring muscles are important for preventing and recovering from hamstring strains, thigh contusion, quadriceps strains, and groin injuries. They stretch the four quadriceps muscles (vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris) at the front of the thigh and the hamstring muscles (Biceps femoris muscle, Semitendinosus, and Semimembranosus).
- Lying quad stretch
- Sitting hamstring stretch (play video)
- Partner hamstring stretching
- Dynamic hamstring stretching (play video)
- PNF hamstring stretching
Read more on thigh stretching exercises.
Hip and groin stretching exercises
- Standing groin stretch (play video)
- Long adductor stretch (play video)
- Piriformis stretch (play video)
- Hip flexor stretch (play video)
Read more on hip & groin stretching.
Back stretching exercises
The following stretching and mobility exercises are often used as part of treatment and rehabilitation programs for back problems and injuries. They are also important to include in general training programs to help prevent injury and even improve sports performance.
If you have back pain or any kind of back injury then it is important to get professional advice as some back exercises may not be suitable.
- Lumbar rotation (play video)
- Low back stretch
- Latissimus Dorsi Stretch
- Cat stretch
- Side stretch
Read more on back stretching exericses.
Shoulder stretching exercises
Shoulder stretching exercises, including anterior shoulder stretch, chest stretch, Triceps stretch, and Latissimus Dorsi stretch as well as partner-assisted exercises which can increase a range of motion still further in the shoulder joints.
- Front shoulder
- Chest stretch
- Rotator cuff stretch
- Back shoulder
- Triceps stretch (play video)
Read more on shoulder stretching exercises.
Elbow and wrist stretching
Elbow and arm stretching exercises are usually most important when rehabilitating an elbow or wrist injury, and include wrist flexors, wrist extensors, tennis elbow stretch, and triceps muscle. In particular, martial artists often do wrist and arm stretches as part of their warm-up.
- Wrist extensor stretch (play video)
- Wrist flexor stretch
- Tennis elbow stretch (play video)
- Assisted supinator stretch (play video)
- Triceps stretch (play video)
- Assisted triceps stretch (play video)
Read more on wrist & elbow stretching exericses.
Neck stretching exercises
Stretching exercises for the neck including rotation stretch, forward and lateral flexion stretches, and Sternocleidomastoid stretch. Neck mobility exercises are also excellent for relieving the tension caused by too many hours sitting at a desk or in front of a computer.
- Neck rotation stretch
- Neck lateral flexion
- Neck forward flexion
Read more on neck stretching exercises
Hypermobility - can I be too flexible?
Generalised Joint Hypermobility (GJH) is a blanket term used to describe an individual with joints that are more flexible than is usual amongst the general population. Hypermobile people are thought to make up only 3% of the population.
Hypermobility is more of a physical 'quirk' than a condition, and is simply a variation in the way in which the joints are formed. This increased flexibility is the result of the connective tissue of the joint structures (the ligaments and capsule) being more compliant than the usual range. Generalised Joint Hypermobility is usually tested by the Beighton Score, which is a simple method to test for joint laxity and hypermobility on a 9 point system.
Read more on hypermobility.