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Flexibility Fundamentals: A Guide to Passive vs. Active Stretching

Updated: Oct 29, 2023



Passive and active stretches are two different approaches to stretching that serve distinct purposes and have their own benefits.


Neither is universally better than the other; the choice between them depends on your goals, needs, and individual circumstances. Here's a breakdown of passive and active stretches:


 

PASSIVE Stretch:


1. Definition


In a passive stretch, an external force or assistance (such as gravity, a partner, or a prop) is used to apply pressure or pull on a muscle or joint to increase its length.


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2. Characteristics


You are generally relaxed during a passive stretch, allowing an external factor to create the stretch for you.


Passive stretches often involve static holds, where you hold a position for a certain duration without active muscular engagement.


Common examples of passive stretches include using a strap to stretch your hamstring or allowing your body weight to sink into a hip opener while seated.


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3. Benefits


Passive stretches are effective for increasing flexibility and improving range of motion.


They can be particularly useful for targeting specific muscles or areas that are difficult to access with active stretches.


Passive stretches can be more relaxing and are often used in restorative or yin yoga practices.


 

ACTIVE Stretch:


1. Definition


Active stretches involve contracting and engaging the muscles that are opposite to the ones being stretched to create the stretch.


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2. Characteristics


You actively engage your muscles to create the stretch, often by using opposing muscle groups to create tension.


Active stretches can be dynamic, with continuous movement and muscle engagement throughout the stretch.


Examples of active stretches include leg swings, dynamic lunges, or contract-relax techniques where you contract a muscle group before relaxing it to achieve a deeper stretch.


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3. Benefits


Active stretches help improve flexibility, mobility, and muscle strength simultaneously.


They enhance proprioception (awareness of body position) and neuromuscular control.


Active stretches can be particularly useful in sports and physical activities where dynamic flexibility is required.


 

WHICH IS BETTER?


The choice between passive and active stretching depends on your goals and the specific situation:


PASSIVE stretches are often used for improving overall flexibility and for relaxation.


They are suitable for cool-downs, recovery, and situations where you want to gently lengthen and release muscles.


Passive stretches are especially helpful when you need assistance to reach a deeper stretch.


 

ACTIVE stretches are beneficial for improving both flexibility and muscle strength.


They are commonly used in warm-ups before physical activities to increase range of motion and prepare the body for movement.


Active stretches can also be useful for injury prevention and rehabilitation.


 

In practice, many individuals incorporate both passive and active stretching into their routines.


The choice depends on what your body needs at a given time.

For optimal results, it's essential to include a variety of stretching techniques in your fitness regimen.


Talk to your yoga / Pilates teacher.


A skilled and experienced teacher will be the best person to put together a programme that is tailored to your specific goals and activities.



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