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The Difference Between Active and Passive Stretching

by Stretch Zone

You may be familiar with some of the more common types of stretches, such as dynamic and static. There are also several other types out there! From active isolated stretching to passive stretching, there’s a lot you can do. What is the difference between these two types of stretches anyway? 

Let’s go over that as well as the benefits of each type. 

What is Active Stretching? 

Active stretching is designed to get your blood pumping and loosen your muscles. With this type of stretching, you use your own body to create resistance. Doing this activity is quite simple: contract one set of muscles to stretch another, generally the opposite one. These are known as agonist and antagonist muscles. 

The agonist is the muscle that’s contracting, and the antagonist is the relaxed muscle. Active stretching is ideal for warming up before a workout or physical activity. We generally hold the position for upwards of 15 seconds before releasing. To prevent discomfort, it’s crucial to keep things controlled. 

person touching her knee

Common Benefits of Active Stretching 

Many athletes can benefit from active stretching before playing their sport, but that doesn’t mean everyone else can’t get something from it. This type of stretching can also be helpful during a mobility workout or yoga session. 

Some ideal advantages of active stretching are: 

  • Faster recovery time 
  • Muscle maintenance 
  • Personalized approach
  • Faster workout recovery time 

Below are some of the other benefits of active stretching you should know if you haven’t given it a try: 

Reduced Muscle Tightness 

Did you know that muscle tightness occurs because the neuromuscular control is working overtime to protect you? It generally happens after a workout where you pushed yourself! Active stretching can help you get past that and help release tightness so you can perform better. 

It’s also great for increasing active flexibility and strengthening the agonistic muscles. Some researchers noticed that it’s good for regulating muscle fiber length and preventing muscle loss as well. 

Improved Circulation 

Active stretching boosts blood flow to the muscles and improves circulation. This also provides more oxygen to the muscles that can help you perform better and improve your overall health. The gentle stimulation that comes from active stretching even encourages mechanoreceptors to fire off in your muscles, which causes the joint to contract as an adaptive control to sudden movements. 

Improved Overall Flexibility 

We’re sure you’re aware that general stretches are great for gradually improving your flexibility if you do them often enough. You might not know that active stretching can do more to improve your range of motion than static stretches. Since you use the opposing muscles in the group you’re targeting, it requires the joint to stretch through its current range of motion. As a result, it can quickly and safely improve your overall flexibility. 

Relief from Aches 

Regular active stretching can help reduce some of those annoying aches! This is why this form of stretching is often performed on those who have experienced an injury. It’s an effective activity for recovery. Since active stretching also loosens muscles, it can help reduce some of the discomfort your muscles may feel because of tension. 

Muscle Groups to Actively Stretch 

Now, let’s go over some muscle groups that can benefit from active stretches. Just so you know, all these stretches can be deepened or isolated with the help of a stretch practitioner! If you’re targeting a muscle with a matching pair on the other side of your body (such as your right and left arm muscles), make sure to get them both to prevent muscle imbalances. 

Below are some muscle groups to actively stretch: 

Active Quadricep Stretches 

These four muscles on the front of your thighs are collectively one of the most powerful ones in your body. Active quad stretches involve flexing the agonist, or the hamstrings. To do this, you’ll have to bend one knee and aim to let your foot touch your butt. You should feel a slight pull on your quadriceps muscles as they stretch. 

Active Triceps Stretches 

The triceps run from your shoulder to the elbow on the back of your upper arm. This muscle, along with the biceps, controls your elbow movements. To actively stretch your triceps, you would need to flex the biceps and shoulder muscles. Doing this involves reaching one arm up without raising your shoulders, bending your elbow, and reaching between the shoulder blades. For the best results, your elbow should be pointed toward the ceiling. 

This stretch may seem difficult for many, so be sure to ask for help from a professional stretch practitioner. 

Active Chest Stretches 

We can’t forget about those chest muscles! Moving your upper arms and shoulders would be difficult if those are stiff. Active chest stretches target the pectorals and biceps, and they involve flexing several back and shoulder muscles, including: 

  • The deltoids 
  • The rhomboids 
  • The mid trapezius muscles 

Achieving an active chest stretch involves extending your arms as wide as possible away from the body. Your elbows should be bent and form a 90-degree angle. Turning your palms forward can help increase the stretch. You should feel it across your chest and in the front of your arms. 

Hamstrings 

Your hamstrings run up the back of your leg, from your knee to the thigh. They consist of a group of three muscles that work together to flex the knee, and many people suffer from tightness in that area. To do an active stretch on your hamstrings, you have to flex the hip flexors and core muscles. 

Doing this involves lying on your back and lifting your leg to the ceiling. It should remain straight until you feel a slight pull on your hamstrings. Depending on your comfort, you can either have the bottom leg extended straight on the floor or bend the knee and use your foot to help support you. 

Glutes 

Your glutes are the largest and strongest muscle group in your body. They consist of three muscles that make up the buttocks and are responsible for helping you maintain balance and power when you walk, run, or jump. 

Hold your legs in front of you and bend one knee over the opposite thigh. To target your glutes, you will need to activate the hip muscles as your body twists to the side for the glute stretch. As always, if you feel any aches, you’re pushing too hard and should take a break. 

Stretch practitioner stretching a senior woman

What is Passive Stretching? 

Now that you have all you need to know about active stretching, let’s get into passive stretching. This type relies on a partner to increase the stretch, and you’re not actively contributing to increasing your range of motion. Instead of your body creating resistance, your stretch practitioner puts external pressure. 

In other words, this external force is stretching you! Achieving a passive stretch relies on external power. It’s an activity often utilized during the recovery period of an exercise, as it helps relax your muscles and the connective tissues. You stay in that set position for a few seconds before moving to the next move or beginning the other side of your body. 

What are the Benefits of Passive Stretching? 

Passive stretching is more beneficial for helping your muscles and their connective tissues to relax. In fact, it’s very helpful for people who cannot stretch on their own. Those recovering from an injury or who have paralysis may experience the most advantages from passive stretching. 

Like active stretching, passive stretching can also help improve your flexibility and range of motion over time. Here are a few other advantages of this type of stretching: 

Stimulates Muscle Growth 

One incredible advantage of doing passive stretches is that it can help you maintain and increase muscle flexibility. It also helps preserve the psychological length of the targeted muscle after a physical activity. This will prevent muscle contractures from occurring. 

Since active stretching has the opposite effect, it’s important to remember the best time to do each stretch. Passive stretching is beneficial after an intense training session because it helps reduce muscle fatigue and contributes to muscle rehabilitation. 

Better Performance 

Passive stretching can enhance muscle function and allow you to move with greater ease. This can significantly improve your physical performance, whether you’re playing a sport, working out, or just getting through your daily activities. Passive stretching is also good for promoting balance, which also helps with better performance. 

Reduced Injury Risk 

Since passive stretching teaches individuals how to move their bodies during daily activities without discomfort, it’s great for reducing injury risk. It works by targeting the nervous system and conditioning stiff joints to move through their entire range of motion without causing any aches. 

It’s Relaxing 

Getting a decent stretch without putting in the work is more relaxing than you may think! Not only does the physical stretching release calming hormones, but it’s also a great opportunity for you to be more in tune with your body, which can also be relaxing. Think of it as having you time and getting the positive benefits from a stretch. 

Overall Health Benefits 

The positive health benefits that come from stretching can have more of an impact on your overall health than you think. Improved blood flow to your muscles and joints will keep them healthy and mobile for a long time. Endorphin production that occurs from stretching can also help you feel less stressed in other aspects of your life. This can reduce tension and prevent tightness due to stress! 

Muscle Groups to Passively Stretch 

Your muscles will get plenty of benefits during a passive stretch, especially since you’ll have the help of a professional stretch practitioner. You can still work the same muscle groups we mentioned in the active stretches, but the only difference is that you won’t be using your own bodyweight for resistance. 

Below are some passive stretches for you to include in your wellness routine: 

Supine Single Leg Stretch 

While lying on your back with one leg lifted, your stretch practitioner will gently press your leg back to resist the movement. You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings. You can either extend the other leg straight or bend your knee to place your foot on the floor based on your comfort level. After holding the position for about 15 seconds, switch to the other leg. 

Passive Quadriceps Stretch 

To achieve a passive quad stretch, you’ll begin by lying on your stomach with your leg extended. Your stretch practitioner will gently move your lower leg toward your buttocks until you feel a pull on your quadriceps. Afterward, we’ll switch legs. 

Passive Shoulders and Chest 

Your stretch practitioner can help target your shoulders and chest with a passive stretch. With your palms facing forward and elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, your coach will pull your arms back gently and hold the stretch for a few seconds before releasing.  

Inner Thighs 

The butterfly stretch targets the inner thighs. While you’re on your back with the soles of your feet pressed against each other and your knees opened to the sides, your stretch practitioner will apply gentle pressure to your lower thighs. During this passive stretch, you should feel a slight pull on your inner thighs 

Lying Knees to Chest 

This passive stretch will target the front of the leg and release the hip. It’s a popular move for recovery. To do this stretch, you’ll be on your back with your legs extended in front of you. Your stretch practitioner will position your knees at a 90-degree angle and gently push your legs toward your chest. 

Depending on your preference, you can either do both legs simultaneously or one at a time. The latter should provide you with a stretch in your hip. 

Stretch practitioner stretching woman in stretching bed

Is the Stretch Zone Method Active or Passive? 

You might be wondering which type of stretching you’ll experience when you visit a Stretch Zone location. The Stretch Zone Method is passive, as are most forms of practitioner-assisted stretching. However, this can vary based on your unique needs. This includes individuals who fall under the following categories: 

  • Shortened muscles 
  • Neuromuscular condition 
  • Elderly 
  • Severely deconditioned 

Interested in Learning More About Active Isolated Stretching? 

Stretch Zone is happy to provide assisted stretching services for those who want to improve their mobility. If you’re interested in giving practitioner-assisted stretching a try, we encourage you to find a location near you and schedule your first appointment.  

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