In my last two posts, I discussed static and dynamic stretching. I touched on the benefits of each modality, cleared up some common misconceptions, and explained how and when to appropriately incorporate them in to an exercise program. You can read about static stretching here and dynamic stretching here. I’m finishing off the stretching trilogy with ballistic stretching. Though a much lesser known type of stretching, I believe it’s something that we should all know a little more about. Do the benefits of this intense method of stretching outweigh the risks associated with it? Many incorporate ballistic stretching in to their daily routines. Some think it’s a technique reserved specifically for athletes, and then there’s those that steer clear from it at all costs.
Definition: The use of momentum or “bouncing” to force a limb beyond its range of motion to warm up or increase flexibility. For example, repeatedly bouncing up and down to touch your toes.
Before I dive in to the nitty-gritty of ballistic stretching, I must stress that, though it is similar to dynamic stretching on the surface, it is not the same, and it is important to not confuse the two. While both involve movement during the stretch, dynamic stretching is a gradual, controlled movement stretching up to, but not beyond normal range of motion, where as ballistic stretching uses momentum and force to push a joint beyond its normal ROM.
How ballistic stretching works:
Our bodies are smart and they try to protect us against injury whenever possible. Our muscles have sensors (called muscle spindles) that can tell how much a muscle is being stretched. When a muscle is about to be stretched beyond what it would normally be capable of, these sensors send a signal to tell the muscle fibers to contract, thus resisting against the stretch. This is called the stretch reflex mechanism. Conceptually, the momentum and force of movement that occurs during ballistic stretching would “bypass” these sensors and allows the muscles to be stretched more than it should be capable of.
So what are the advantages of this type of stretching (1,2)?
- Can improve dynamic flexibility
- Prepares the muscles for intense activity
- Pushes the body beyond it’s usual comfort zone
- Can enhance motor performance of the muscles
Adversely, there is no denying that there are some risk factors associated with ballistic stretching as well(3):
- These forceful stretches can tear the bodies soft tissues
- The stretched muscles may become more susceptible to injuries
- The stretch reflex can be triggered, and would, in turn, tighten muscles rather than stretch them
Considerations when programing ballistic stretching include:
- Age and health of the client
- Clients training experience (novice, intermediate, advanced)
- Clients injury history
There are definitely risks involved with ballistic stretching. That being said, when programmed appropriately, and performed pristinely, it can be an effective method to enhance joint range of motion. I would suggest that this type of aggressive stretching is left to those individuals that have a good sense of body awareness and have a significant amount of training experience under their belt. I’d also suggest doing a warm up that includes some light cardio and dynamic stretching before diving in to the ballistic type movements. However, when assessing the risks versus the benefits that come with ballistic stretching, there are other methods of stretching (i.e. static, dynamic) that will improve range of motion with a lower amount of risk for injury for all populations and age groups.
1. Unick, J., Kieffer, H., Cheesman, W., & Feeney, A. (2005). The acute effects of static and ballistic stretching on vertical jump performance in trained women. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(1), 206-212.
2. Woolstenhulme, M. T., Griffiths, C. M., Woolstenhulme, E. M., & Parcell, A. C. (2006). Ballistic stretching increases flexibility and acute vertical jump height when combined with basketball activity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(4), 799-803.
3. Thacker, S. B., Gilchrist, J., Stroup, D. F., & Kimsey, C. D. (2004). The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: A systematic review of the literature. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), 371-378.
Subscribe to the PTontheNet blog via Email or RSS feed