Being able to move isn’t just about being fast or keeping up for a long time. If you want to be in the best physical shape, your mobility also needs to be good. That means your range of movement needs to be large and your joints must extend properly.
One of the best ways to improve your mobility is through stretching, but there are different ways to do it. Static stretching is when you push your joint to its maximum length and hold it there. You stay in position, feeling the tension through your body, but you don’t move. It’s probably what you imagine when you think of stretching.
There is a division in static stretching between the passive and the active kind. Passive stretching uses outside forces to extend and hold the muscle in place. Think of it as being stretched, rather than you doing the stretching. This might mean using equipment (or even a nearby wall), or working with a partner who helps you get in position. It can get you further than might otherwise be possible. Active stretching is just you using the strength of your own body.
Static stretches are best for after you’ve exercised, during the cooldown, where they reduce your risk of injury. You do each stretch a couple of times, holding it for anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute, though probably settling somewhere in the middle. It’s not great for a warmup though, because it can slow down your reactions. If you’re going from static stretches to cardio, you might not be at your best.
What you might not realize is that stretching isn’t just a stationary thing. Dynamic stretching involves movement and energy. It’s exercises like the walking lunge or the torso twist, which come with acceleration as well as strength. Your muscles will loosen as you warm up and the blood starts to flow, meaning they’ll be ready for a more intensive kind of workout.
These kinds of stretches are most effective when they’re tailored to your planned exercise. For example, if you’re running, clearly your legs are going to be engaged. Even slower walking or jogging can be a good, dynamic way to work up to the faster runs. Don’t just be active in how you move but in how you think about how you move. Don’t treat stretching as a dull necessity.