Why is ballistic or excessive stretching bad?

Eric Olsen
Many of us came of age in an era when physical education teachers taught us to stretch by throwing our bodies about and bouncing for maximum stretching, usually to rhythmic exhortations to "make it hurt, sissies!" Research has shown that not only does this increase the risk of injuries, such "ballistic" stretching is actually counterproductive. Ballistic or excessive stretching activates reflexes that signal the muscles to contract, protecting them from harm; thus you're tightening the very muscles you're trying to loosen.
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Both ballistic stretching and excessive stretching can be harmful to your muscles, tendons, and joints. Ballistic stretching uses the body’s momentum in an attempt to achieve greater range of motion and flexibility. An example of this would be bouncing up and down repeatedly to touch your toes. This bouncing motion may stretch the tendon or muscle too far and/or too fast causing potential injury. In addition, this bouncing motion activates the stretch reflex which causes your muscle to involuntary contract in an attempt to protect it from harm, defeating the purpose of the stretch. It is much safer to perform stretching techniques with a slow and controlled tempo.

Eric Beard
Sports Medicine

Muscles and the tissue around the muscles typically respond best to slow movements and static holds. Bouncing or moving “ballistically” can excite the nervous system and tighten the muscle instead of relaxing it. Moving too quickly with too much force can cause small tears in the muscle and surrounding tissue as well. Start off by holding stretches for 30 seconds while experiencing a mild to moderate pull or feeling of stretch. Once you have done this for two to three sets, or you have established good flexibility in your muscles, you can move onto more dynamic stretches. You can perform dynamic stretches rhythmically but start slow and gradually build your speed always practicing good control and form.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.