Dynamic stretches weren’t even yet a thing when I did my degree in physiotherapy. I still vividly remember the first time that I witnessed a runner swing their leg from side to side as if they were trying to dislodge the limb. Fast forward to today and you’ll find that these (any many stranger moves) are now an integral part of what we see as a good warm-up routine. In this article I explain what dynamic stretches are and why we should all be doing them before we exercise.
In this article:
- What’s a dynamic stretch?
- The benefits of dynamic stretching
- Drawbacks of dynamic stretches
- What it doesn’t do
What’s a dynamic stretch?
Dynamic stretching is when you do repetitive movements that actively move/stretch a muscle as far as it will allow you to and then immediately move back out of the position. They can be done standing or while moving. They are controlled movements and should not be confused with ballistic stretches that usually involve rapid bouncing.
Examples of dynamic hamstring stretches include swinging your leg forwards and backwards while standing or when you do straight leg marching. One of my favourite dynamic hip flexor stretches is the squat walk that the girl in the picture is doing.
The benefits of dynamic stretching
There is strong evidence that dynamic stretches can enhance explosive performance such as jumping, running or sprinting as well as balance and agility.2 This type of stretching wakes the muscles and nervous system up and prepares them for forceful movements.5
Dynamic stretches can also help to improve your flexibility, but they’re not quite as effective as static stretches.8 The problem is that static stretches have been shown to sometimes switch muscles off (if held for longer than 45 sec) which is not ideal if you are about to compete! This is where dynamic stretches can come to the rescue.
Performing a set of dynamic stretches after static stretches can wake your muscles back up thereby ensuring that you don’t see any negative effect on your performance.5, 8 If having good flexibility is important to your sport, I would suggest that you hold static stretches for less than 30seconds and follow it up with a good set of dynamic stretches and a sports specific warm-up.
Drawbacks of dynamic stretches
Dynamic stretches can tire your muscles out and decrease your performance if you do too many repetitions.7, 10 There are currently no clear guidelines on what actually constitutes “too many”. It may very well depend on your level of fitness.
As a guideline I would suggest that if you feel out of breath or tired after your warm-up, you have likely done too much.
What it doesn’t do
There is currently no evidence to suggest that dynamic stretches can decrease muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise. Their effect on injury prevention has also not been investigated so far.1 I would argue that any activity that wakes the nervous system up will likely help to prevent injuries, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer for the research to confirm this.
- Dynamic stretches should be included as part of your warm-up regime.
- Dynamic stretches wake the muscles and nervous system up and prime them for exercise.
- It can enhance your performance as long as you don’t do too many repetitions.
- You should do a set of dynamic stretches after static stretches in your warm-up.
- They don’t prevent muscle soreness.
- We don’t yet know for certain if they help to prevent injuries.
- Behm, David G., et al. “Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review.” Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 41.1 (2015): 1-11.
- Chatzopoulos, Dimitris, et al. “Acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on balance, agility, reaction time and movement time.” Journal of sports science & medicine 13.2 (2014): 403.
- Herbert, Robert D., Marcos de Noronha, and Steven J. Kamper. “Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise.” The Cochrane Library (2011).
- Kay, Anthony D., and Anthony J. Blazevich. “Effect of acute static stretch on maximal muscle performance: a systematic review.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 44.1 (2012): 154-164.
- Loughran, Martin, et al. “The effects of a combined static-dynamic stretching protocol on athletic performance in elite Gaelic footballers: A randomised controlled crossover trial.” Physical Therapy in Sport 25 (2017): 47-54.
- Murphy, Justin R., et al. “Aerobic activity before and following short-duration static stretching improves range of motion and performance vs. a traditional warm-up.” Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism 35.5 (2010): 679-690.
- Opplert J, Babault N. Acute Effects of Dynamic Stretching on Muscle Flexibility and Performance: An Analysis of the Current Literature. Sports Med 2017:1-27.
- Samson, Michael, et al. “Effects of dynamic and static stretching within general and activity specific warm-up protocols.” Journal of sports science & medicine 11.2 (2012): 279.
- Simic, L., N. Sarabon, and Goran Markovic. “Does pre‐exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta‐analytical review.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports 23.2 (2013): 131-148.
- Yamaguchi, Taichi, and Kojiro Ishii. “An optimal protocol for dynamic stretching to improve explosive performance.” The Journal of Physical Fitness and Sports Medicine 3.1 (2014): 121-129.
Maryke is an expert sports physiotherapist who provides online physio consultations using Skype. She is registered with the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy as well as the Health and Care Professions Council.