Stretching

Active stretching is also referred to as Static-active stretching. An active stretch is one where you assume a position and then hold that position with no assistance other than using the strength of your agonist muscles. A great example of this is lifting your leg up high and then holding it there without the support anything (other than your leg muscles themselves), and keeping the leg in that extended position. The tension of the agonist muscles in an active stretch helps to relax the muscles being stretched by reciprocal inhibition (when an agonist muscle contracts, in order to cause the desired motion, it usually forces an opposing, complementary antagonists muscle to relax).

The practice of active stretching increases active flexibility and strengthens the agonistic muscles. Active stretches are usually quite difficult to hold and maintain for more than 10 seconds and rarely need to be held any longer than 15 seconds for proper effectiveness. Subsequently, many of the stretches and movements found in various forms of yoga are active stretches.

 

Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing their reach, speed of movement, or both.  Often times, dynamic stretching is confused with the practice of ballistic stretching.  Dynamic stretching, or example, would consist of controlled leg and arm swings that take an individual gradually to the limits of their natural range of motion. Ballistic stretches on the other hand would involve trying to force a part of the body to go beyond its natural range of motion. With dynamic stretches, there are no bounces or sudden yanking, tugging or jerking movements. An example of dynamic stretching would be slow, controlled leg and/or arm swings, and/or torso twists.

 

Passive stretching is also referred to as Relaxed stretching, and as Static-passive stretching. A passive stretch is a stretch where an individual will assume a position and hold it with the help of some other part of the body, or with the assistance of a partner or some other equipment or apparatus.  An example of passive stretching would include lifting your leg up high and then holding it at that height with your hand. An extreme example of a passive stretch is doing the splits (in this case the floor is the "apparatus" that you use to maintain your extended position).

Passive stretching is useful in relieving muscle spasms that are healing after an injury. Of course, an individual should ALWAYS check with their doctor first to see if it is okay to attempt to stretch the injured muscles.  Additionally,  relaxed stretching is a great tool for cooling down after a workout and it also helps to reduce post-workout muscle fatigue, and soreness.

PNF stretching is currently the fastest and most effective way known to increase static-passive flexibility. PNF is an acronym for proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. It is, theoretically, not a type of stretching but is a technique of combining passive stretching and isometric stretching in order to attain maximum static flexibility. In actuality, the term PNF stretching is in on of itself quite misleading. PNF was initially developed as a technique for rehabilitating victims of stroke.  PNF refers to any of several post-isometric relaxation stretching techniques in which a muscle group is passively stretched, and then contracts isometrically against resistance while it is in the stretched position.  The muscle group is then passively stretched again through the resulting increased range of motion. PNF stretching usually requires the help of a partner.  The partner provides resistance against the isometric contraction, and then again later passively takes the joint through its increased range of motion. PNF stretching may be performed alone without the assistance of a partner, though, it is usually more effective with the  assistance of a partner.