Ballistic Stretching: What, How and Why?

Stretching to improve flexibility is a common exercise routine. One of the popular workouts among athletes is Ballistic stretching which is an intense form of stretching method.  However, this exercise can be dangerous if done without supervision or training by a professional.

ballistic stretching

What is Ballistic Stretching?

Ballistic stretching is a form of passive stretching or dynamic stretching in a bouncing motion. Static stretches are performed slowly, smoothly and gradually whereas Ballistic stretching method involves stretching the muscles much faster and farther. Ballistic stretches takes your limb to an extended level of motion when the muscle still does not get enough relaxation. It involves fast “bouncing” movements, at the end range of movement, a double bounce is performed.  This type of stretching can cause muscles to get tight and can even lead to serious injury if not done properly.

How does it Work

Ballistic stretching affects the body in two ways: musculoskeletal mechanics and neuromuscular input. Muscles have sensors inside that can tell how far or hard they’re being stretched. If a sensor feels too much tension, it will send a signal for the muscle to pull back to protect the joint from injury. The sheer force of movement during a ballistic stretch bypasses these sensors, and makes the muscles get stretched more than their normal capacity.  When stretching ballistically, you can basically trick these sensors and prevent the muscle from contracting, thus getting a stronger stretch.

Benefits of Ballistic Stretching

Enhances Range of Motion

For dancers, football players, martial artists, basketball players and athletes, Ballistic stretching can help improve performance by increasing their range of motion. An athlete can use this exercise to jump higher or kick with more force.

Prevent Injuries

Ballistic stretching can prevent tendon injuries. Elasticity of tendons can be changed through stretching. An individual with a more compliant and elastic tendon would have less injuries.

Improves Flexibility

A comparative study involving the stretching of hamstrings in 40 individuals between the age of 20 and 40 with tight hamstrings was done in 2010 and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Static stretching of hamstrings was compared to Ballistic stretching for more than six weeks. Results showed that after six weeks, ballistic stretching was better than static stretching in improving flexibility of hamstrings.

Increases Metabolism and Regulates Heart Rate

Stretching increase the metabolism and heart rate. An active body affects the state of mind. It calms the mind, relaxes the body and rejuvenates.

Dangers of Ballistic Stretching

While this type of stretching may be beneficial for athletes, it also carries a risk of injury. Ballistic stretching is generally not recommended for everyday people who want to stay in shape or improve flexibility.  This is because there is a risk of straining or pulling a muscle. Static stretching stretches muscles smoothly without risk of pulling them whereas ballistic stretching may be helpful to some people as long as it’s done correctly.

Before trying this technique on your own, speak to your trainer about the risk versus benefits for your individual needs. Remember that while you should be able to feel a stretch, it should never be painful.