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Dynamic Stretching | Hints, Tips, How To

Two people completing dynamic stretching exercises.

Dynamic stretching is one of the most effective forms of flexibility training for improving the range of movement (ROM) around a joint. Flexibility expert and fitness author Thomas Kurz tells us that, ‘besides perfecting the intermuscular coordination, dynamic stretching improves the elasticity of the muscles and ligaments,’ (Stretching Scientifically).


However, unlike static stretching, where we hold a fixed position for a specific duration, dynamic stretches are considerably more challenging. The reason is that ‘this kind of flexibility depends on the ability to combine the relaxing of the extended muscles with the contraction of the moving muscles.’


To perform dynamic stretches correctly and safely requires learning and practice. This article aims to equip you with the skills you need to start dynamic stretching with confidence.


Dynamic stretching FAQ

But before we begin mastering the subtle art of dynamic stretching, it might be worth reviewing a few frequently asked questions. This way you can understand the characteristics that differentiate dynamic stretching from other types of flexibility training – such as static, ballistic, and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation).


Armed with this knowledge you will be able to determine if dynamic stretching is suitable for your fitness and training goals.


In addition, the FAQ outlines a brief range of benefits that you can expect from participating in a dynamic stretching routine. So, if you do decide to implement the 10-minute daily plan below, you’ll know what flexibility outcomes to expect.


What’s dynamic stretching?

At its essence, dynamic (also known as active) stretching is a form of flexibility training that uses muscle contraction to facilitate – or drive – the stretching action. Norris puts it more simply when he defines it as ‘stretching with movement,’ (The Complete Guide to Stretching).


The active element is the fundamental feature that differentiates dynamic stretching from most other types. Often, though, dynamic stretching is confused with ballistic stretching. The difference between the two is that, unlike ballistic movements, which are performed at very high speeds and rely partly on momentum, ‘a dynamic stretch is a controlled movement through the full range of motion.’


Are dynamic stretches safe?

Dynamic stretching is not as safe as static stretches. The act of using muscle contraction to develop flexibility increases the risk of pulls, strains, and tears. Furthermore, dynamic stretching is arguably dangerous for inexperienced exercisers or those who are rehabilitating soft tissue damage.


But, speaking anecdotally, having used dynamic stretches for over 15 years, in conjunction with other forms of flexibility training, I can attest to the safety of this method. However, like all forms of physical exercise, the relative safety depends on certain factors.


For example, as outlined in the Dynamic Stretching Dos & Don’ts below, it is imperative to warm-up before starting your routine. Muscles and connective tissues are more pliable when warm. Spending 5- to 10-minutes rowing, skipping, or jogging prior to practicing your stretches will significantly reduce injury risk.


Another key factor for improving the safety of dynamic stretches is to avoid over-applying the stretch. Thomas Kurz, the flexibility expert that we met in the introduction, recommends using a point of contact as a barrier to prevent over-stretching. When performing, say, a front leg raise, you could use an outstretched arm as a barrier.

Will dynamic stretching improve flexibility?

Indeed it will. Dynamic stretching does more than merely improve flexibility though. The authors of the highly authoritative Personal Trainer Manual maintain that active stretching not only increases the range of movement around a joint but also strengthens the ‘elastic components – muscles, tendons, musculotendinous junctions.’


Dynamic stretching improves flexibility in the same way that other forms of stretching do – that is, by inhibiting the stretch reflex through the process of habituation. However, as we’ve discussed, dynamic stretching goes further because it actively engages the muscles and connective tissues.


Related: Discover the Benefits of Stretching

Is dynamic stretching better than static?

Dynamic stretching is better than static stretching in the same way that compound exercises are better than isolation exercises. And that is, they both involve a wider range of muscles while engaging multiple components of fitness.


Contrasting the two forms of flexibility training, when performing a static hamstring stretch – the seated splits, say – only that muscle is being targeted (a bit of glutes as well). But when performing a dynamic stretch for the same muscle – such as the standing leg raise – in addition to targeting the hamstring, this exercise also incorporates all the posterior leg muscles.


Furthermore, the standing leg raise activates the quads, hip flexors, and lower abdominals. In so doing it develops muscular endurance and plyometric power. The stretch doesn’t stop there though. To execute the movement coordination and control are required to stabilise the position.


It’s worth remembering that, as with compound and isolation exercises, dynamic and static stretches serve specific functions. And ‘for maximum benefits in flexibility, it is vital to include both active and passive stretching methods’ in your routine (Personal Trainer Manual).


Related: Need a Daily Stretching Routine?

Dynamic stretching | The fundamentals

What follows is an outline of the fundamentals of dynamic stretching. In addition to learning a comprehensive range of stretching exercises, you will also receive a crash course in safe stretching principles.


To complement all this theoretical know-how, you will find a 10-minute dynamic stretching action plan. Because the plan features a stretch for all the major muscle groups, it is suitable for most workouts and sports.


Dynamic stretching dos and don’ts

Don’t practice dynamic stretching when your muscles are tired.

Because dynamic stretching requires coordination and control (unlike holding static positions), it should be performed when you are at your most energetic. Just after the warm-up is best. The principle is the same as when executing complex compound exercises such as deadlifts, snatches and squats. It’s much harder to maintain correct form when your muscles are tired. And, as we all know, poor form increases injury risk.


Do perform your dynamic stretches after a warm-up.

Warm muscles are more pliable which reduces the likelihood of incurring a strain, pull, or tear. Before you start your flexibility routine, spend 5- to 10-minutes warming up. Rowing, skipping, and the cross trainer make for ideal whole-body warm up exercises.


Don’t rush your stretching routine.

Racing through your stretching exercises will likely result in the poor execution of the techniques. In addition to impairing the effectiveness of the stretches, poor technique increases injury susceptibility.


Do perform your dynamic stretching as you would resistance exercises.

Kurz advises between two to three sets of five to twelve reps. He also recommends ‘increasing the amplitude of movements’ as you progress through the set (Stretching Scientifically). This means that when performing, for example, dynamic front leg extensions, the range of movement progressively increases with each successive exercise.


Don’t leave long periods between stretch sessions.

Research dating back to the 80s uncovered the importance of stretching regularity. When groups of athletes were assigned a range of routines – three, seven, and fourteen stretch sessions per week – the greatest gains in flexibility were enjoyed by those athletes who stretched every day.


Do developing the degree of stretch over a series of reps.

The process underpinning this Do is directly analogous to establishing your one-repetition max (1RM). Over a series of lighter lifts, you would gradually build up the resistance to that final maximal rep. The same applies to dynamic stretches. Only we are not increasing the weight but the degree of the range of movement.


Dynamic stretches

Below are 5 dynamic stretches for you to try. The stretches have been structured into a lower body/upper body order. Stretches one to three focus on the muscles of the legs while stretches four to five target the muscles of the trunk, back, chest, shoulders, and arms.


Following an ascending or descending order ensures that all areas of the body and major muscle groups get stretched.


The exercises include an outline of the muscles stretched and a concise technique description. In recognition that some readers may prefer a visual demonstration, each stretch features a link to a short video tutorial.


Dynamic stretch #1: Front leg raise

Purpose of the stretch: increase the flexibility of the glutes, hamstrings, and claves. Front leg raises also engage the quadriceps, hip flexors, and core while improving balance, control, and coordination.


Stretch technique

  • Adopt a neutral stance – feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, looking forward.

  • For balance, you can support yourself by gripping a stable object. But you’ll need to use the opposite hand of the leg being stretched.

  • Hold out your free hand level with your waist or lower if you are quite inflexible.

  • Under control sweep the stretching leg up until it makes physical contact with your outstretched hand.

  • Repeat the action for between 8 to 12 reps before changing legs.

  • Remember, after each kick you are marginally raising your hand.

  • Watch the stretch in action.


Dynamic stretch #2: Side leg raise

Purpose of the stretch: develop the range of motion around the hip joint while also increasing the flexibility of the adductors.


Stretch technique

  • Adopt a neutral stance – feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, looking forward.

  • Before initiating the exercise, hold your hand at your side. Again, keep the hand low to start with. The side leg raise induces a more severe stretch than the front technique.

  • At a right angle, raise the leg until the soleus muscle touches your hand.

  • The side leg raise is more challenging than the front and rear raises because there is no room to generate momentum.

  • When contact is made lower your leg to the start position and repeat for the desired number of reps.

  • Watch the stretch in action.


Dynamic stretch #3: Rear leg raise

Purpose of the stretch: improve mobility around the hip joint and increase the flexibility of the quadriceps and hip flexors.


Stretch technique

  • Adopt a neutral stance – feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent, looking forward.

  • A point of note. The rear leg raise is the only dynamic leg stretch that doesn’t involve kicking up to a fixed barrier – aka your hand. Thus, it is especially important to take your time and gradually build the stretch over a series of reps.

  • With your hands on your hips or held out to the side for balance, sweep your leg back.

  • When performing the rear leg raise your torso will naturally hinge forward. That’s part of the technique and shouldn’t be avoided.

  • Watch the stretch in action.


Dynamic stretch #4: Standing trunk rotations

Purpose of the stretch: enhance the flexibility of the transverse abdominus, intercostal muscles, and erector spinae.


Stretch technique

  • Trunk rotations can be performed in either a standing or seated position. The technique remains the same.

  • Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and planted firmly, your knees are slightly bent, and your arms are held out parallel to the floor. The elbows are bent to about 90 degrees.

  • When executing the exercise focus on rotating your arms from side to side.

  • Again, as with the previous stretches, marginally increase the range of motion with each repetition.

  • A rotation on either side constitutes a single repetition.

  • Watch the stretch in action.


Dynamic stretch #5: Arm crossing

Purpose of the stretch: develop the range of motion around the shoulder joint while increasing the flexibility of the biceps, deltoids, pectorals, trapezius, rhomboids, and infraspinatus.


Stretch technique

  • Standing or seated, hold your arms out to your front.

  • They are parallel to the floor with the palms facing down.

  • To initiate the stretch curl your arms around your upper torso as though you are giving yourself a hug.

  • Now, using muscle contraction, open your arms and pull them back. You will feel a stretch creep into the biceps, posterior deltoids, and pectorals.

  • Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.

  • Watch the stretch in action.


Dynamic stretching routine

Once you have mastered the five dynamic stretches above, it’s time to organise them into a routine. Recalling the sage advice advanced by Thomas Kurz, for the best outcome the stretches must be practiced regularly. Based on the outcome of scientific research, Kurz suggests stretching every day.


To support you in maintaining stretching consistency, a dynamic stretching routine has been created. The routine takes only 10-minutes to complete. In that short time, all the major muscle groups are stretched at least once – some multiple times.


The dynamic stretching routine is suitable for all types of training including most sports. For example, the routine will prepare you just as well for a Whole-Body HIIT Circuit as it would a Boxing Bag Workout.


10 minute dynamic flexibility routine

A session plan of a 10 minute dynamic stretching routine.

 

This blog on dynamic stretching concludes with the author bio - which reads: In this text box it says: As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance! Blog Author: Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.

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