Ballistic stretching – uses movement to stretch the muscle beyond its capabilities. For example, bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes. This type of stretching is considered harmful and has a high risk that it can lead to injury because the muscles do not have the opportunity to adapt to the new posture and therefore the muscles don’t have time to adapt to the stretch. This type of stretching in fact may cause the  opposite of the desired effect and cause muscle tension by repeatedly forcing the stretch when the muscle fibres are not yet capable. Pilates does not practise this type of stretching.

Dynamic stretching – , according to Kurz, “involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both.” Dynamic stretching is a smooth, controlled method that involves pushing you past your range of motion without bouncing or engaging in jerky movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be leg circles or torso twists. This type of stretching improves flexibility and can be used as a part of a warm up and is common in the practise of Pilates.

Static or also known as active stretching is when one finds an extended position and holds the position using the strength of the opposing muscle to maintain the position. For example, lifting your leg ones leg out to the side and hold. The tension of the agonists muscles (prime movers) in an active stretch allows the antagonists muscles (secondary muscles ) to relax. by reciprocal inhibition. (the idea of muscle groups working with and against each other at the same time )

Active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles and rarely need to be held for long periods of time (15secs max). Many of the movements (or stretches) found in various forms of yoga and pilates are active stretches.

Passive stretching is also referred to as relaxed stretching, A passive stretch is when a position is held with the aid of a piece of equipment, your body, or a trainer / partner. For example, the splits is an example of a passive stretch (in this case the floor is the “apparatus” that you use to maintain your extended position). The person finds the position and then relaxes into the stretch.

Passive stretching is commonly used to alleviate pain from spasms in muscles that are healing after an injury or for cooling down after a workout as it reduces post muscle ache and tiredness. Passive stretching is often aided in Pilates with a dyno band allowing the student to gentle undertake this method and therefore gaining benefits with reduced risk to overstretching.

Isometric stretching is practiced without movement, it engages the muscles in the stretch while they are contracted (tense) Isometric stretching, like Isometric training  is one of the fastest ways to improve muscles strength, tone and flexibility though is not recommended for those whos bones are still growing or those who are already very flexible. The stretch should not be held for longer than 15 seconds as it increases the risk of injury. People vary their methods to achieve isometric stretching such as pushing against a wall or a person.

PNF stretching viewed as the quickest and most effective method to increase active passive flexibility. PNF is an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and combines passive and isometric stretching. PNF was designed to help stroke victims in their rehabilitation and is practiced when a group of muscles is passively stretched before isometrically contracted using resistance, the stretched position is maintained. The muscle group is then relaxed and stretched again, this time increasing the range of movement. Normally PNF is practiced with the help of a trainer to provide the resistance and to increase the range of movement, a private session or small group session of Pilates will include PNF stretching. All PNF stretching needs to incorporate a 20 second pause to allow the muscle to relax totally.

PNF stretching techniques are:

hold-relax After initiating the a passive stretch, the muscle is then isometrically contracted for up to 15 seconds, then released to relax for a few seconds, before being engaged once again in a another passive stretch which pushes the muscle further than the first stretch. This second passive stretch is held for up to 15 seconds before the muscle is released.

the hold-relax-contract The contract-relax-antagonist-contract (or CRAC). Is performed in 2 parts and consists of two isometric contractions: Like the hold – relax method, a passive stretch is performed followed by an isometric stretch to the primary muscle group. The difference takes place during the relax period, during this period the rest period is used to isometrically activate the antagonist muscle (secondary muscle) that is held for up to  15 seconds. The muscles are then relaxed for 20 seconds. There is no secondary passive stretch in this technique which makes this technique one of the safest.

the hold-relax-swing This technique follows the pattern of the hold relax technique but instead of engaging the muscle into a second passive stretch it employs a dynamic or ballistic stretches which is combined with the isometric stretches. This technique is considered high risk and is used in those who have a good grasp of their stretch reflex such a dancers.

PNF stretching is also not recommended for children and people whose bones are still growing and should not be practised on a specific muscle group more than once per day.

After an isometric stretch the relaxed muscle retains its ability to stretch beyond its initial maximum length and range of motion. PNF takes immediate advantage of this increased range of motion by immediately subjecting the contracted muscle to a passive stretch educating the muscle, which is one of the reasons PNF stretching is considered to be so effective.

For more information regarding how Pilates includes stretching as part of the class click here.