Dynamic stretching – what is it and why is it so important?
When you think of stretches, you’ll probably picture what is known as a static stretch.
This is the type of stretch you would typically do at the end of exercise as part of your cool down routine and would involve standing in a relatively still position while moving parts of your body to gently stretch them for a period of time.
Dynamic stretches are different and are usually practised at the start, rather than at the end, of exercise. They involve a gradual stretch up to, but not beyond, your normal range of motion and, unlike static stretches, they require you to move and exert an effort in order to occur. A dynamic stretch will move your soft tissues to their full length and then, rather than holding the stretch for an extended period, require just a brief pause before the muscle you are stretching contracts and your muscles and tendons exert a force in that lengthened position.
When to use dynamic stretching
The purpose of dynamic stretches is to get your body moving. Often, they will mimic the type of exercise you’re about to perform. For example, a footballer may do a series of back-and-forth leg swings to mimic the action of hitting a football. Likewise, a swimmer may do a series of arm circles in order to warm up the arm muscles before getting into the pool.
Research has shown that dynamic stretching prior to lifting weights may help with leg extension power which results in performance improvements, when compared to either static stretching or no stretching at all.1 Studies have also shown that dynamic stretches are beneficial for athletes engaging in sports such as running or jumping, as well as football players, basketball players and sprinters.2
Examples of dynamic stretching
There are a number of types of dynamic stretches that can be practised by anyone with no experience and no need for any apparatus.
Large arms circles
To warm up the muscles in your arms and shoulders stand with your arms extended out to your side and make large circles with your arms swinging forwards. After five to ten reps stop, change direction and repeat with your arms swinging backwards.
Swing one of your legs back and forth while balancing on the other. If you need to you can hold onto a wall or chair for support. After five to ten reps, lower your leg to the floor and repeat with your other leg. You can also swing your legs from side to side to stretch out different muscles in your legs and hips.
Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, raise your arms out to the side until they are at shoulder height. Keeping your torso as still as possible, slowly start to rotate your upper body back-and-forth from left to right. Repeat this five to ten times.
Ensuring that you have clear space in front of you, move one foot forward and drop the other knee into a lunge position. Come back up and repeat with the other leg still moving forward. Walking lunges can also be performed moving backwards and from side to side.
Using dynamic stretching in your movement workouts
Dynamic stretching is just one of the ways to reap the health benefits of physical exercise. It’s important in order to warm up your muscles and reduce the risk of injury,3 but it’s also important not to do too much too soon and not to overstretch. If you feel unsure or unconfident about what to do you could consult a yoga or Pilates teacher or a personal trainer who will be able to show you how to maintain the correct form. Dynamic stretches should feel mildly challenging but at no point should you feel pain. If you do, be sure to stop as this could be an indication that you’re stretching too far.