What is Dynamic Stretching?

Woman Dynamic Stretching

Before we really get into dynamic stretching, you can take a minute to learn more about flexibility training. It’s always best to have a solid understanding of what flexibility training is, so you can apply that knowledge to each of the various stretching strategies.

Dynamic stretching uses momentum and an exaggerated range of motion to warm up muscles for the subsequent exercise. The main caveat of dynamic stretching is that the stretch position is not held, as it is with static stretching.

Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually increasing reach, speed of movement, or both. This is not to be confused with ballistic stretching and static stretching, which can be dangerous when used at the beginning of your workouts.

Dynamic stretching can be performed before or after a medium intensity 5-minute dynamic warm-up consisting of jogging, jumping jacks, or jumping rope.

Never begin a ballistic or static stretching session cold. Warm-up to stretch, but NEVER stretch to warm up. Conversely, dynamic stretching can be used when you’re still cold.

Let’s figure out how, why, when, and where to use dynamic stretching.

Why You Should Use Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching is useful before exercise and has been shown to reduce muscle tightness, which is one factor associated with increased musculotendinous tears. More recent scientific studies seem to suggest that dynamic stretches before exercise are preferably to static stretches.

This is particularly true for strength and power athletes, as studies have shown a 30% decrease in strength and power after performing static stretches before exercise.

Reasons to use dynamic stretching:

  • decrease muscle tightness
  • decrease muscle soreness
  • warm-up for intense exercise
  • injury prevention
  • preparation for competition
  • pre-workout stretch routine

The goal of dynamic stretching is to warm up the ligaments, muscles, and tendons that will predominantly be used by subsequent exercise. This is why sport-specific dynamic stretching, which mimics movements used in a given athlete’s sport, is recommended.

For example, sprinters might do lunges and heel kicks to the buttocks, while basketball players might do Spider-mans and hand-walks.

When to Avoid Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching should not be used to increase range of motion. You should choose static stretching, or better yet proprioceptive muscular facilitation (PNF) stretching, for that.

Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, notes:

“There is a neuromuscular inhibitory response to static stretching, The straining muscle becomes less responsive and stays weakened for up to 30 minutes after stretching, which is not how an athlete wants to begin a workout.”

The bouncing technique should also not be used. Bouncing is associated with ballistic stretching, which is used to stretch a muscle past its current ROM. Ballistic stretching has often been linked to injury and should generally be avoided.

Dynamic Stretching Examples

Walk Outs

Warms up the shoulders, core, and hamstrings.

  1. Stand straight with your feet only a couple inches apart.
  2. Bend over as far as you can, ideally until both hands are touching the ground.
  3. Walk your hands forward until your back is nearly extended.
  4. Keep your legs as straight as possible and walk your hands back towards your feet.
  5. Finish standing up straight.
  6. Repeat for 10 reps.
Spidermans

Spiderman Crawls

Warms up and stretches the whole body.

  1. Drop onto all fours.
  2. Crawl 20-30 feet as if you were climbing a wall like Spiderman
  3. Turn around and crawl back.
  4. Repeat twice.

Side Bends

Stretches and warms up the abdominals and obliques.

Side Bends
  1. Stand with a shoulder-width stance.
  2. Optionally place a light barbell on your shoulders. This is NOT the time to hold heavy dumbbells at your side.
  3. If you choose not to use a barbell, put your hands behind your head or on your ears or put your arms straight up in the air.
  4. Lean to one side keeping your torso straight. Do not bend forward or backward.
  5. Hold for a count of 2 and then repeat to the other side.
  6. Complete 10 stretches on each side.

Trunk Rotations

Stretches and warms up the abdominals and obliques.

  1. Stand with a shoulder-width stance.
  2. Place your hands on your hips or behind your head.
  3. Rotate your torso from side to side while keeping both feet flat on the floor.
  4. Complete 20 full rotations to each side.

Abdominal Stretch

Abdominal Stretch

Fully stretches and warms up the entire abdominal area.

  1. Start by lying diagonally on a stability ball in a crouch with your knees bent.
  2. Push back with your feet and simultaneously reach your hands over and behind your head.
  3. Try to touch the floor behind your head.
  4. At this point, your legs should be straight and your arms outstretched.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps.

Exaggerated Kicks

Uses vertical momentum to increase ROM at the top of the kick. Warms up and stretches hips, hamstrings, and glutes.

  1. Stand tall with both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Choose one leg and swing or kick it as high as you can.
  3. Stretch your ankle (rather than flex your ankle) by pointing your toes towards the target.
  4. Works best if you have a target hanging at face-level in front of you – try to kick it.
  5. Repeat the kick 10 times.
  6. Switch legs.
  7. Repeat twice with each leg.
Straight Leg March

Straight Leg March

Similar to the exaggerated kicks and probably a better alternative.

  1. Kick one leg straight out in front of you.
  2. Flex your ankle (rather than stretch your ankle) by trying to point your toes towards your face.
  3. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes.
  4. Drop the leg and repeat with the opposite limbs. That’s one rep.
  5. Continue the march for 10 reps.

Walking Lunges

Uses downward momentum to warm up and stretch the hip flexors, and reduces tightness around the hip joint.

Walking Lunges
  1. Stand tall with both feet flat on the floor.
  2. Step forward with one foot about 3 feet away from the body.
  3. Bring the training knee down to within 1-2 inches of the floor.
  4. Both knees should form 90-degree angles.
  5. Step forward with the trailing foot so that both feet are once again together.
  6. Alternate feet by lunging forward again with the foot that was previously trailing.
  7. Once you have stepped forward again so that the feet are together, that is one rep.
  8. Perform 20 reps.

Hamstring Stretch

Uses upward momentum to stretch the hamstrings.

  1. Lie on your back and place a piece of tubing, or loop a towel, around the bottom of one of your feet.
  2. Lightly pull the tubing and raise your leg at the same time until you feel a stretch.
  3. Keep your knee nearly straight throughout the movement.
  4. Return to the starting position and repeat for 10 reps.
  5. Repeat with the other leg.

Scorpion

Warms up and stretches the lower back, hip flexors, and glutes.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your arms outstretched.
  2. Flex your feet (ankles) so that only your toes are touching the floor.
  3. Kick your right foot toward your left arm, then kick your left foot toward your right arm.
  4. Since this is an advanced stretch, begin slowly and repeat 10 times.

You can do it this way as I have described:

Or you can do it this way if it is more comfortable:

Groin Stretch

Warms up and stretches abductors and adductors to hopefully reduce the chance of a groin pull.

Groin Stretch
  1. Stand straight and tall beside a stability ball.
  2. Bend one leg at the knee and place that knee sideways on top of a stability ball.
  3. Maintain your balance.
  4. Slowly roll the knee and leg out to the side until you feel a stretch on the inside of your thigh.
  5. Return to the start and repeat for 10 reps.
  6. Repeat with the other leg.

Alternate Toe Touches

Stretches and warms up the lower back, glutes, and hips.

  1. Be aware that you should skip this exercise if you have any discomfort in your back.
  2. Start by standing with your feet spread twice as wide as shoulder width.
  3. Lean forward and try to touch the toes of one foot with the fingers of the opposite hand or until a comfortable stretch is felt in your lower back and hamstrings.
  4. Now try to touch the other foot with the opposite arm.
  5. The motion should be continuously alternating, touching each foot with the opposite hand.
  6. Try to touch each foot 10 times.

Arm Circles

Uses circular momentum to warm up the shoulder girdle.

  1. Stand tall and hold arms out straight to the side, parallel to the floor.
  2. Begin by slowly making small circles with your fingertips in one direction.
  3. Proceed to build up to large arm circles that utilize a full range of motion (ROM).
  4. Reverse the movement by moving your arms in the opposite direction and work back down to tiny circles.
  5. 20 seconds in each direction should be enough.
Woman Performing Arm Circles

Half-Kneeling Shoulder CARs

An alternative to arms circles might be half-kneeling shoulder CARs (controlled articular rotations), in which you half-kneel with one foot down and one knee down, then slowly rotate the arm on the down-knee side forward to back, then back to forward, letting your palm rotate from inside to outside as your shoulder rotates your arm front to back, and then reverse.

Arm Swings

Uses horizontal momentum to warm up and stretch the front pecs, front and rear delts, and upper back.

  1. Stand tall and hold your arms out to your side.
  2. Slowly swing your arms back and forth across your body.
  3. Repeat this continuous motion for 20 seconds.

Final Thoughts

Using all of the above dynamic stretching exercises every time you workout is probably overkill. It would be best to pick 4-5 dynamic stretches to activate each of the major muscular areas – core, hips, shoulders, glutes, and t-spine rotation, for a few examples. For even more ideas, check out this dynamic flexibility and mobility workout used by the James Madison University (JMU) strength and conditioning program.

Please visit our posts on specific forms of flexibility training.

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2 Responses to “What is Dynamic Stretching?”

  1. I have been lifting weights for about a year and a half…. And i realized that as time passes the only real time that I was sore was doing leg exercises. To make a long story short, I had been hangin out with one of the trainers, and she demonstrated a bunch of new exercises (its nothing like we spend a lot of time on them either!) The next day I had been sore from head to toe. Basicly things i am getting at is the fact you may have been stuck within the rut of doing the same kind of routine. However, if you change up your routine your body feels it! Continue the good work!

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