Whether you’re competing with Olympic athletes or just getting ready for gym class, we’ve all been told that we need to stretch before and after exercise to achieve our peak performance and aid in our post-workout recovery.
But something you likely don’t know is that standing (or sitting) still and stretching in itself isn’t quite enough. To really get your muscles warmed up for the game, dynamic stretching can be far more effective.
Dynamic and static stretching: What’s the difference?
Static stretching is probably what most people do when asked to stretch. You simply stand in a given position and hold it for approximately 30 seconds before releasing the pose. This type of stretching may help relieve tension or pain in the body and usually stretches one specific muscle (or muscle group) at a time.
Dynamic stretching, however, gets the body moving. These stretches combine simple, repetitive movements that slowly increase the range of motion over time (for example, increasing the size of the circle in arm circles, or gradually getting closer to the floor with lunges). This combination of stretching and movement is great for getting the heart rate up and warming the muscles to the optimum temperature for exercise.
When is dynamic stretching most beneficial?
Because dynamic stretching allows you to move the body and almost ‘practise’ some of the motions you’ll need during your exercise, this type of stretching is generally used in warm-ups and training.
By taking your body almost to the limits of your range of motion, you’re also going to decrease the possibility of injuring yourself while exercising, as your body will be more prepared for what’s about to be asked of it.
When is static stretching most beneficial?
Although it would be easy to say dynamic stretches are better for you—period—this would be incorrect. Both dynamic and static stretches should have their place in your workout in ways that make you feel good. Even wrestler-turned-actor, John Cena combines a mixture of static and dynamic stretches in his warmups.
But while you can incorporate a range of dynamic and static stretches into your warmup, experts suggest that the most beneficial time to complete static stretches is actually during your (often-neglected) cool-down routine. This is because a static stretch effectively helps the body relax by slowly tightening, stretching, and releasing single muscle groups: perfect for signalling to the mind and body that it’s time to rest, as well as preventing stiffness, cramping, or injury.
Why should I stretch?
Completing a warmup before exercising is a great way to prepare for the workout both mentally and physically while cool-down exercises bring your breathing and heart rate back to normal and signal to your body that the hard work is over.
A good warmup usually combines a mixture of static and dynamic stretching to warm the muscles, get your heart pumping, and increase your range of motion. These exercises will also stimulate the nerve signals that go to your muscles, offering faster reaction times.
For the best results, try a few different stretches and work out what feels good for you and your body. Try not to focus on what everyone else is doing and just find what works.
Examples of dynamic stretching:
Arm Circles: These are one of the most popular examples of dynamic stretching. Hold your arms out to the sides and move them in small circles. Gradually increase the circle size until you feel resistance from your body then decrease the circle size back to your starting position.
Leg Swings: To warm up the quads and hamstrings, raise one leg and swing it back and forth, slowly increasing the height of the swing each time. Once you’ve reached your limits, decrease the height of your swing back to center and repeat with the other leg. For even more dynamics, you could also use a hip circle band to introduce resistance training to the exercise.
Lunge Twist: Add a bit more intensity to your lunges by adding a gentle twist for a full-body experience. While standing, take a step forward with your left foot into a lunge pose. Next, take your right hand and bring it across your body towards the left foot. Unwind the posture and return to a standing position. Repeat with the opposite hand and foot as many times as you like/need to get the heart pumping.