Dynamic Stretches: What, Why, and How

After yesterday’s video highlighting some running basics— including static stretches— I’ve received an overwhelming amount of e-mails from readers asking the same questions: what are dynamic stretches, why should you do them, and how do you do them. As always, I’m here to give you the details!

The What

Dynamic stretches, in short, are active stretches that involve some sort of movement which gradually increases the body’s range of motion. Static stretches, in contrast, involve stretching a body part at rest past the point of tension then maintaining that stretch in a static (unmoving) position for a prolonged period of time.

Some dynamic stretches: leg swings, arm swings, neck circles, hip circles, shoulder circles, ankle bounces, horse kicks, handwalks, lunges, squats, high knees, butt kicks, Frankenstein march

Some static stretches: hurdler’s stretch, toe touch, groin stretch, calf stretch, piriformis stretch, quad stretch, hamstring stretch— basically any stretch that you were taught in the 8th grade that involved holding a stretch for an extended period of time!

FYI, not to blow anyone’s mind or anything, but there are actually other types of stretches too… I just won’t delve into that at this time!

The Why

When it comes to body mechanics, we know the importance of doing a pre-workout warm up. It’s never a good idea to take the body from a point of rest to a point of activity with no real segue in between; this leads to potential injury since the muscles and joints aren’t properly prepared for activity. Not to mention that you can achieve a better workout when you’re sufficiently warmed up: a good warm up increases blood flow to the muscles, increases oxygen delivery to the muscles, prepares your heart gradually for activity, lubricates your joints for easier movement, primes the pathways between nerves and muscles, and so much more. Bottom line, a good warm up enhances your workout in numerous ways.

So while we know why we should warm up our bodies before activity and why it’s not a good idea to take the body from full rest to full activity… the trouble is, people don’t always apply that same logic to stretching in and of itself. Static stretches involve taking a muscle from a point of rest to the point of resistance— with no real segue in between! Logic can tell us why that’s not really a great idea! Logic tells us that if the body needs to adjust gradually to activity, you can more or less assume that the body needs to adjust gradually to stretching, which is a form of activity, as well. Science backs this up with numerous studies; research shows that performing static stretches done pre-workout can actually increase the incidence of serious injury. Without the gradual increase in range of motion inherent in dynamic stretches, static stretches can lead to muscle tears, tissue inflammation, or worse.

Yeah... Some people bend, others just break!

Yeah… Some people bend, others just break!

The How

That said, don’t discount static stretch entirely. Research shows that static stretches still have their place in your workout routine, although they are best performed post-workout when your muscles have been sufficiently prepared to be pushed to the point of resistance. This is when your body can get the benefits of these stretches— without the risk of serious injury!

It’s easy to incorporate dynamic stretches into your workout routine. Focus on stretches that involve some sort of movement, and strive to gradually increase your range of motion throughout the stretch. Take some time pre-workout to perform some of the dynamic stretches listed above or refer to my earlier video demonstrating some dynamic stretches.

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