‘Do some dynamic stretches’, is a common piece of advice you might read or hear. I remember when I didn’t really know what that meant so I thought it might be helpful to go over what a dynamic stretch actually is. I’ll also cover why you should consider doing some dynamic stretches and when might be a good time to do them. 

What is a dynamic stretch? 

When we think of stretches we usually have an image of a person holding a single position and staying still while they stretch out a muscle. This is a static stretch. A dynamic stretch on the other hand is all about movement. It takes a joint through its complete range of movement; think arm circles and leg swings. Even though the range of movement is big, they should still be done in a controlled manner so take your time.  

Why should you do a dynamic stretch? 

  • Muscle activation 

During a dynamic stretch, all the muscles surrounding the joint will have to contract and release. This activates those muscles. Waking up those muscles and using them in a dynamic stretch for a warm up will mean that when you then use those muscles in your activity they will be more powerful. This is thanks to a phenomenon known as post activation potentiation. Use a muscles once and the next time it will work harder. Dynamic stretching could well improve your performance.  

  • Joint lubrication 

Our joints are lubricated by synovial fluid, it’s the grease in our engine. It also nourishes the cartilage lining our joints. Synovial fluid is made by the synovial membrane inside joint cavities and is rich in protein.  Movement stimulates production of synovial fluid and it also helps the removal of old synovial fluid through the lymphatic system. By moving we’re ensuring a flow of fresh fluid to lubricate, nourish and keep the joint healthy. Dynamic stretches before you exercise will help to protect and cushion your joints. 

  • Improved flexibility 

We get very set in our actions day to day and rarely take joints to the limits of their movements. Long days sitting at a desk and hunched over a laptop aren’t good for any of us. The default position is we get less flexible as we age and ‘if you don’t use it then you lose it’. Doing some dynamic stretches is a good way to improve and maintain our flexibility. We don’t all need to be able to do the splits or even to touch our toes but putting on shoes or extricating ourselves from a soggy sports bra are part of life’s essentials.  

  • Improved co-ordination 

Some dynamic stretches require us to think. Firing up the nerve pathways that travel from our brain to our muscles and back again is a great way to help us maintain their activity. These pathways quickly wither if they aren’t used. Fine movements, agility and all round good co-ordination depend on these brain to muscle connections. Dynamic stretching is a good way to get in tune with our body.  

When’s a good time to do a dynamic stretch? 

To be honest, any time is a good time to do a dynamic stretch. Before you run is a perfect opportunity, for all the reasons mentioned above. Ideally you would have a short walk first but make sure you include a range of dynamic stretches in your pre-run warm up or stop after five or ten minutes of easy running and do some then.  

They’re also a great thing to do if you only have a few minutes. Break up your working day with a few stretches, especially if you have a sedentary job. Waiting for the kettle to boil, while brushing your teeth, any time you’re feeling a bit stiff or tight then pull out a few dynamic moves.  Your body will thank you.  

Examples of dynamic stretches 

If you can then choose the stretches that are most closely linked to the activity you are about to do. There are so many different types of dynamic stretches but here are 8 of my favourite ones: 

  1. Arm circles – be a giant windmill with both arms outstretched. Do ten big circles in a backward movement followed by ten forwards. It feels good! 
  1. Hip circles – who doesn’t love a big hip circle? Put your hands on your hips and keep your knees soft and see how much mobility you can get in your hips in a clockwise and then anti clockwise direction.  
  1. Open and close the gate – great for those of us with tight hips. Again with your hands on your hips, stand on one leg and bend the other one at the knee. Rotate your hip from backwards and up and over to forwards in a big circle as you close the gate. Do this five times and then reverse to close the gate. A handy movement to help you be able to climb over country styles. 
  1. Squats – the good old squat is a dynamic movement. Make sure you keep your weight in your heels and sit back as you squat. Squeeze your glutes as you come up. Perfect activation for a run.   
  1. Walking lunges – Again, great for pre-run or across the kitchen while the kettle boils. Take a big step forwards, bend your leading leg, kiss your bent back knee to the ground then push up through your front leg and glute as you come up ready to step out with the opposite leg.  
  1. High knees – I love the low impact version of this. Keep your body upright and bring one knee as close to your chest as you can, give it a hug if you want then switch to the other leg. You can also do a high impact version jogging on the spot and bringing each knee as high up as you can – perfect before a sprint session.  
  1. Cat Cow – you might have done this in yoga but it’s also a great dynamic stretch to warm up your spine. On all fours, pull your tummy button up towards your spine and arch your back bringing your head and pelvis down (that’s the cat bit!). Follow with letting your back curve and your head come up (I don’t think I’ve really seen a cow do that!). 
  1. Torso twists – Another simple one to wake up the spine and abs too. Stand tall with your arms crossed in front of you. Leaving your hips facing forwards try to turn your upper body to look as far round behind you as you can then return to face forwards. Do at least five on each side. You can do these on their own or add them into your walking lunge and twist towards the side of your front leg before you rise up from the lunge. Tricky to do! 

Dynamic stretches not only feel good but they help to prepare your joints and muscles for movement. Add a few into your warm ups and scatter them through the day for all round good health. Have fun! 

Featured image: Irina L from Pixabay  

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