In a nutshell, ballistic stretching is using the momentum of movement to force the body (or part of the body) past its typical range of motion. This is often done through bouncing into or out of a stretching position. An example of a ballistic stretch is one where you are bouncing your upper body to help your fingers touch your toes (either in a standing or sitting position).
One of the reasons that people used ballistic stretching is because static stretching before being active wasn’t too beneficial. It has several effects on the body that actually do the opposite of preparing it for active movements: it relaxes the nervous system, decreases coordination, agility and quickness and it weakens the stretch reflex.
While it used to be a fairly common form of stretching, most experts will now tell you to avoid it because of the large risk of injury. Ballistic stretching does not allow your muscles to relax at the stretched position. Instead of increasing the muscle’s flexibility, it may instead cause the muscle to repeatedly tighten. This can cause muscle tears as well as muscle soreness – you can either notice injuries caused by ballistic stretching immediately or the pain may slowly develop over time.
That doesn’t mean the static stretching is the best way to stretch before being active, however. Many fitness experts will agree that it’s important to use dynamic stretching before doing active exercises. Dynamic stretching is using movement to stretch the muscles by slowly increasing both the speed and range of motion (not necessarily the bouncy, jerky motions associated with ballistic stretching).
There are instances where ballistic stretching can have benefits if used in a controlled manner, however. This is especially true for martial artists who want to gain the best range of motion in their kicks. People who train martial arts can use ballistic stretching in the form of leg swings to their benefit. After all what is a martial arts movement done fast? Just be smart about it.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re going to use ballistic stretching:
1. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before you do leg swings.
2. Keep your use of leg swings reasonable: remember that stretching should not be painful. Ten to twelve repetitions on each side should suffice.
3. Do them in the morning to prepare your muscles for the day.
For more information on this article or others go to Stretches and Stretching Programs
Kip Franks Jr. runs a fitness consulting business and writes for online, as well as offline, fitness sources. He is finishing his first book on stretching and flexibility. You can find more information at his web site here. All About Stretching and Flexibility