Active & Passive Stretching

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Stretching is an often overlooked but important part of a fitness regimen. If it’s not a part of your program, consider that stretching can improve your flexibility and, as a result, improve your exercise or athletic performance. Stretching may also help prevent injuries, and may reduce or prevent post-exercise muscle soreness. If you wish to research the ways in which stretching may benefit your program, however, ensure you understand the different types of stretching, including the differences between active and passive stretches.

Active Stretching

  • Unfortunately, no single definition of active stretching is universally accepted by all fitness authorities. In general, however, stretches in which you don’t receive outside help are considered active. The upward salute yoga pose -- in which you stand tall, arch your back a bit and stretch your arms above your head -- is an example of an active stretch because you perform and hold the position without the help of any external force, object or device.

Passive Stretching

  • A passive stretch uses an external source to help you perform the activity. The source can be your own body, such as a shoulder stretch in which you reach one arm across your chest horizontally and then press against the elbow with your opposite hand. The external source can also be an object. For example, you can raise your extended leg onto a bench and then lean forward to stretch your hamstrings. Alternatively, a training partner can provide the external force by pushing against your raised leg while you’re lying down, to stretch your hamstrings.

Static and Dynamic Stretching

  • Static stretches are held at a peak position, typically for 15 to 30 seconds, while dynamic stretches move muscles through a full range of motion with no more than a brief pause at any point. Active stretches can be either dynamic or passive but are more likely to be dynamic moves such as leg kicks, arm swings, twists or running with high knees. When you do active-static stretches -- such as the upward salute pose -- you won’t hold the stretch as long as a static-passive stretch because it’s harder to hold a stretch with no external help. Passive stretches are more likely to be static, but again, there are exceptions. The hamstring bench stretch, for example, can be static if you hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. But it can also be dynamic, if you lean your torso forward and then return to the starting position in a single, fluid motion.

When to Perform Active and Passive Stretches

  • Depending on which active and passive stretches you select, you can do either type of stretch at any time. Dynamic stretches should be performed after an aerobic warm-up but before your main workout. Do your static stretching after working out. As a result, you’re more likely to perform active stretches before you exercise and passive stretching afterward.

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