Ballistic stretching is a type of stretching that involves rapid and bouncing movements in a repetitive way and aims at moving the engaged muscles and joints beyond their normal range of motion so as to gradually improve the performing person’s flexibility. Despite being a relatively popular form, ballistic stretching is not designated to anyone, and especially to beginners or amateur athletes, mainly because of its strenuous and unsafe nature, while many trainers and fitness experts actually state that it should be totally avoided as it is very likely to result in injury.
How Ballistic Stretching Works
To start off, ballistic stretching is based on the following notion: the individual tries to exploit the impetus of their moving body or limb so as to force it to exceed its normal range of motion. The bouncing into a stretched stance and then back out of it is essential in order to provide the needed push for surpassing the normal limits of the muscle tissue; in fact, imagine your stretched muscles acting like a spring that will drag you out of the stretched position, and that is basically how ballistic stretching works.
Ballistic Stretching Exercises
Although performing ballistic stretches is generally contraindicated (see the Disadvantages and Dangers section below), you can have a look at some examples which are comparatively popular and could provide a clearer perception of the principle lying behind this type of activity. In any case, do look through our Stretching Guide. So:
- The standing lunge; executed in other stretching patterns, this exercise is undoubtedly helpful for the quadriceps and the gluteus. To perform it in the ballistic mode, put your left foot a step forward whereas placing your right foot behind your body; your arms could be either loose to your sides or completely straightened above your shoulders; now, bend the right foot and rapidly plummet forward – attempting to surpass your usual range of motion –, while leaving your left knee bending behind, trying to lay your body weight on the heel of your right foot; immediately return to the initial position and repeat with the left leg, each time aiming at outreaching your standard range of motion.
- Another classic ballistic exercise involves standing upright and then begin bouncing down to touch the toes again and again, aiming similarly at exceeding the normal ROM.
- The sitting variation of the above described stretch: Sit on the floor with the upper part of the body vertical with respect to the extended and welded legs and try to touch the ankles with your hands by executing prompt and repeated moves on the same technique.
- The arm swings for the chest muscles (presented here in the dynamic pattern) can also be performed in a way that constant overstepping of the usual ROM is achieved.
In all the aforementioned examples, the utmost target should be to extend the point of the end position in every repetition; and generally, a dozen of other exercises involving several limbs of your body (knees, hips, hamstrings, ankles, shoulders etc.), as long as they demand bouncing-type movements with a constantly increasing range of motion, are considered as ballistic stretches.
Disadvantages & Dangers
In line with the above mentioned, and although the concept of ballistic stretching seems rational and can be effective in some cases (especially for experienced or professional athletes), there are serious objections regarding its safety. More specifically:
- Despite the allegations of the ballistic stretching devotees, the repetitive and bouncy principle, which excruciates the muscle tissue, makes it actually more susceptible to injuries – while, ironically, stretching is an activity that, apart from flexing your limbs, targets also at reducing the chances of getting injured (other stretching benefits can be seen here).
- The fact that ballistic stretching works by forcing a limb to extend past its normal range of motion puts excessive pressure on the engaged muscles and joints and can potentially lead to a tear or strain from a sudden move outside of the normal span. In most extreme cases, ballistic stretching can even result in irrevocable damage in the muscle tissue or in the joints’ nerves.
- Exactly due to the fact that these stretches do not give your muscles the chance both to adjust to the stretched position and relax in it, ballistic stretching could actually be responsible for activating the mechanism of stretch reflex, ultimately tightening the muscles instead of making them supple!
What to Consider
The majority of fitness experts state that ballistic stretching is a stretching choice that should be avoided, yet not totally excluded; in any case, when chosen, this should be done with extreme caution and after pondering many factors (age, physical condition, experience) of the considered individual. For instance, a safety feature that can help you avoid injury, if you finally decide to go for ballistic stretches, it to perform them after having thoroughly warmed up your muscles through some cardio workout. In any case, do not, by any means, start this type of stretching on your own without asking for the advice of an experienced instructor!
Ballistic vs Dynamic Stretching
At this point, we should also clarify an issue that frequently leads to misunderstanding: Ballistic stretching should not be wrongly identified as a variation of dynamic stretching, which is an entirely different type of activity. Of course, both these stretches aim at increasing muscle flexibility and strength through repetition, but, whilst the latter involves smooth and well-governed moves, ballistic stretching is quite the opposite, as it uses unrestrained strikes. In addition, the pursue of ballistic stretching is to surpass the usual range of motion while dynamic stretches always remain beneath or close to that limit, thusly posing no direct threat to the muscle tissue.
Photos & Videos
Watch the video and photos below for a better understanding on ballistic stretching:
On the whole, ballistic stretching should under no circumstances be your first choice for stretching if you are an amateur athlete or an ordinary sportsperson, since its benefits are fewer that its drawbacks, mainly in terms of safeness. This specific stretching type is actually a good choice for sports which involve ballistic movements (soccer, basketball, volleyball etc.), but an average person would better turn to safer forms of stretching that can help them upgrade their flexibility without running unnecessary risks.
Category: Types of Stretching