Ballistic Stretching Vs Static Stretching: What's The Difference?

If there is one piece of fitness advice that has held true, it is this: Always stretch before your workout. Fitness fads may come and go, but workout injuries are never going to be part of an ideal exercise plan. And that's where stretching comes in. It gets your joints ready for the strain ahead so you walk away feeling like a superhero instead of whoever they were up against.

Stretching is important. It is also, unfortunately, a little bit confusing. Terms like "static stretching" and "ballistic stretching" don't mean a lot to most people. And at first glance they don't seem all that different. But these two types of stretches affect the body in different ways. This makes them suited for different situations and, in the case of ballistic exercises, different people.

The biggest difference between ballistic stretches and static stretches is the way a person moves during the stretch. Or, in the case of static stretches, how they don't move. The American Council on Exercise defines static stretches as any stretch where someone assumes a stretch position and holds that position for 30 seconds or more.

Ballistic stretching is any stretch that requires "repeated bouncing movement," also as defined by the American Council on Exercise. The Council also cautions that ballistic stretches carry a higher risk of injury, and as such should be reserved for experienced athletes. The American Sports and Fitness Association seconds this opinion.

Which type of stretching is better?

While it's true that ballistic stretching carries a higher risk of injury for the average person, that doesn't mean static stretching is always the way to go. In fact a 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that static stretching could limit a person's use of explosive energy for up to 24 hours. And while explosive energy might sound like something out of a Marvel movie, it's the common term for the way our bodies use energy to jump, take off running, or perform any other sudden movement.

So which is better? In the end: Neither. Ballistic stretching should only be used by experienced athletes. And a 2015 study review published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that static stretching doesn't actually help avoid injury as much as was once believed.

Both stretch styles have their uses, however. Static stretches are ideal for after a workout, when your muscles are already warmed up and pliable. And once you're comfortable and confident in your workouts, ballistic exercises can help test your range of motion. Until then, check out this article about a third, often-recommended type — dynamic stretches — to help set up your ideal warmup.