Recently, after suggesting ballistic stretching as a warm-up exercise to some of my athlete clients, some of them expressed safety concerns with this type of workout.
Ballistic stretching, which involves sudden and fast movements, can put muscles in a vulnerable state, but it can be beneficial when done for the right reason.
To help my clients and readers understand more about these exercises, I’ve compiled what I know about them and also discussed the findings with a physical therapist.
So, here’s what you should know about them.
- Ballistic stretching is a type of stretching that involves fast and sudden movements to increase flexibility.
- Common examples of ballistic stretches include ballistic pancakes, standing lunges, standing toe stretches, arm circles, and core twist stretches.
- An increased range of motion, improved athletic performance, hamstring flexibility, and tendon elasticity are among the benefits of doing ballistic stretch exercises.
What Is Ballistic Stretching
Ballistic stretching is a form of stretching best done before a workout where you propel your body to force a greater range of motion through quick swinging and bouncing movements.
Dancers and athletes perform ballistic stretching to increase their flexibility and muscle power .
Because the exercise aims to increase flexibility, it can help you prepare for athletic activities, especially those involving explosive movements.
For this reason, along with the fact that it activates multiple muscle groups, ballistic stretching suits a warm-up better than a cool-down.
People often confuse ballistic stretching, static stretching, and dynamic stretching.
Let's clear that up.
The Difference Between Static and Ballistic Stretching
While ballistic stretching exercises involve quick swinging and bouncing stretches, in static stretching, a stretched position is held for a few seconds to allow your muscle fibers to get used.
“Most ballistic stretches are similar to regular static stretches, just with the addition of a bouncing or pulsing motion at the furthest point of the stretch.”
- Steve Silvestro, Medical Doctor
The other difference is timing. You should perform static stretching after an exercise routine, while ballistic stretching is best done before a workout.
The Difference Between Dynamic Stretching and Ballistic Stretching
With dynamic stretching or active stretching, there are no bouncing movements that tend to push muscles past their normal range of motion, like when performing ballistic stretching. Instead, dynamic stretches are more controlled and continuous.
Examples of Ballistic Stretching
Here are some of the most common examples of ballistic movements.
The ballistic pancake stretch may look simple to do, but it might take several tries before you can do it to perfection.
So, essentially, you’ll split your legs as far as you can while seated or standing, then bend over with your legs straight.
How to do it:
- Sit down in a straddle position.
- Reach your arms forward as far as possible.
- Hold for about 30 seconds while making little bouncing stretches and trying to reach further forward.
- Repeat three times.
Ballistic Single-Leg Stretch
In single-leg ballistic stretching, you’ll reach down on one leg and alternate to the other.
How to do it:
- Sit down in a straddle position.
- Lean forward towards one leg and grab the foot. Place your hands on either side of the leg if you cannot grab it.
- Try to reach down as far as you can while making small bounces to bring your body down further.
- Hold for about 20 seconds before alternating to your other leg and repeating the same.
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Ballistic Toe Touch
This is the simplest, and it is also one of the most popular. It's also a bit similar to the ballistic pancake stretches, except your legs are together.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend forward and attempt to reach your toes.
- Once down, perform little bounces up and down as you attempt to reach down further and stretch past your normal range.
The standing lunge is particularly beneficial for your glutes and quads, making it a good warm-up or warm-down after a leg workout at home or the gym.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start by standing with your hips hip-width apart.
- Now, take one big leap forward with your right leg.
- Bend your front foot and lower your hips downward as if doing a lunge. Ensure your front knee doesn't extend past your toe.
- Drive your back leg back and forth several times to feel the stretch.
- Rise up and take the leap back to your starting position.
- Do the same with your left leg.
Other examples of ballistic stretching include:
- Arm Circles
- Neck Tilts
- Shoulder Rotations
- Calf Stretches
- Core Twist
- Hurdle Stretch with a Twist
Below are a few benefits that come with doing a ballistic stretching routine.
Increased Range of Motion
Poor flexibility can be detrimental to the performances of athletes such as gymnasts, martial artists, and basketball players. This is where ballistic stretching comes in.
As mentioned earlier, scientific studies prove that ballistic stretching can improve the range of motion more than static stretches or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation .
Practicing ballistic workouts can positively affect your kick performance and vertical jump and is, therefore, essential for competing athletes.
Improved Athletic Performance
Mimicking the actions of sporting activity through quick movements can prepare your muscles for explosive and powerful movements.
According to studies, this type of high-dynamic warm-up can improve strength and power performance .
Athletes use this to maximize their performances.
Related: 10 Principles For Achieving an Athletic Body
Hamstring injuries are quite common in sports. They are often caused by muscle tightness, which might result from an improper warm-up.
This injury can be well fixed with leg swings, a ballistic stretch that helps loosen the hamstrings and hip flexors.
Another quite common injury among athletes is the Achilles tendon, which results from inflexibility and poor joint movement.
And as you can guess, ballistic stretching can help reduce the risk of such an injury by increasing tendon elasticity .
Better Blood Circulation
One of the benefits of stretching in general is keeping the muscles flexible, which improves blood circulation.
It's common knowledge that poor blood flow within the body can lead to joint pain and stiffness, diabetes, and digestive issues, among other conditions.
Improving blood flow through stretching can prove to be essential for your brain and heart to function properly.
Reduced Muscle Soreness
One often overlooked benefit of stretching is the ability to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) .
While static stretching can be beneficial in this regard after a workout, ballistic stretching is best done before a workout to reduce DOMS.
When Should You Do Ballistic Stretching?
You should do ballistic stretching before a high-performance activity or workout as a warm-up exercise. This is because fast and sudden stretches can help prep your muscles, particularly by increasing their range of motion.
Can Ballistic Stretching Be Dangerous?
Yes, ballistic stretching can be dangerous when done suddenly and forcefully, as it can damage soft tissues around joints such as tendons and ligaments.
Boost your Workout with a Pre-Workout Supplement
Besides increasing your range of motion, ballistic stretches such as the standing toe touch, ballistic pancakes, and standing lunge can also improve your workout and athletic performance.
And while they can prime your muscles well, combining them with a pre-workout supplement can lead to an even more successful workout performance.
We’ve tested all of the products on these lists, and most of our clients use them daily before an exercise session.
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