Fitness and stretching have evolved over the years along with sports. The more medicine and science understand the human body, the more people are able to accommodate their body’s needs. Dynamic stretches are a perfect example of this. This physical warm-up plays an increasingly important role in preparing the body to handle activities healthily as well as prevent injuries.
What Dynamic Stretching Really Is
Everyone stretches at least a little bit. Think about the last time you yawned and spread your arms out—that was stretching. It’s a way of limbering up and encouraging movement and flexibility in your muscles and joints. Dynamic stretches are sets of movements designed to push your joints and muscles through repetitive motions that somewhat challenge them. This is meant to reduce stiffness, increase blood flow, and warm up the tissues in your limbs.
Those functions are extremely beneficial for your body before strenuous activities, like playing sports, going for a run, or lifting weights. Reduced stiffness improves your limb movement when you’re active. Increased blood flow provides the energy your muscles need to perform well. Warm tissues respond and fire more quickly, too. All of this means you’re less likely to suffer an overuse injury—and your body is more likely to perform at optimal levels.
Not Your Traditional Stretches
Dynamic stretches are not the basic toe touches and quad stretches you’ve probably done, or at least seen other athletes do. This kind of stretching requires movement: you are moving your body and activating your muscles as you stretch. This gets your limbs ready to fire when you run or play sports. These are different from the more traditional static stretches that most people are more familiar with.
Static stretches involve holding a position that forces specific muscles to relax and lengthen. The purpose of this is to increase tissue flexibility and prevent stiffness. These stretches are still valuable for an athlete’s body, of course. Sports have a way of over-tightening tissues that puts you at risk for sudden tears. However, static stretches performed on cold muscles before you play sports or otherwise engage in strenuous activities can actually limit your muscles’ effectiveness. These kinds of stretches are best saved for your cool down after an activity.
A Few Dynamic Stretches for Your Next Warm-Up
Safe dynamic stretching does require some technique to avoid injuries. Experts like our physical therapy team at Castle Pines Physical Therapy can help teach you specific exercises that will benefit your body and prepare you for your specific sport. Here are a few general ones that you could start working into your regular routine:
Lunge and Twist – Lunge forward deeply on one leg, so the back knee almost touches the ground. Twist your torso so your shoulder face the same side as the knee that’s up. Straighten back to neutral, then lunge on the other leg and twist in that direction.
Leg Swings – Using a wall or something solid to balance, swing one leg forward and backward. Increase the height of the leg swings slowly.
Knee to Chest – While walking forward, bring your knee as high and as close to your chest as possible for each stride. Grab your shin and briefly pull your knee closer before you take your next step.
Twisting Hip Stretch – Lunge forward, but keep your back knee off the ground and as straight as possible. Lean forward so the hand that’s opposite the front knee touches the ground by your foot. Rotate your torso and reach for the sky with your other hand.