Dynamic stretches are movements performed at a slower pace than most workouts. People tend to do dynamic stretches to warm up their muscles and prepare for exercise.
In recent years, dynamic stretching may have replaced standard static stretching in many fitness routines.
In this article, we take a look at how dynamic stretching differs from static stretching and the benefits that it may offer. Next, we describe examples of dynamic stretches as warmups, for runners, and for those working on their upper bodies. Finally, we provide safety tips.
Dynamic stretching involves making active movements that stretch the muscles to their full range of motion.
These exercises often simulate functional movements and help prime the body for more intense training.
To prepare for a run, for example, a person may perform a knee exercise that is a gentle simulation of running, such as the “high knees” exercise that we describe below.
Static stretching involves extending specific muscles and holding the position. For example, extending an arm behind the back to work the triceps is a static stretch.
Dynamic stretches, meanwhile, involve moving rather than holding a position. A walking lunge, for example, is a dynamic stretch.
A 2012 review of studies suggests that dynamic stretching may particularly benefit people who do sports that involve running and jumping.
While the evidence showed that both dynamic and static stretches could improve the range of motion, static warmups may negatively impact muscle strength, some studies in the review reported. However, the findings on this point were mixed.
A more recent review confirmed that dynamic stretching helps improve the range of motion and increase muscle strength. However, it found evidence that the effects may be minimal and that dynamic stretching can impair performance in some instances.
The review’s authors note that a lack of clear stretching descriptions in studies makes the interpretation of results challenging.
Dynamic stretches can warm up the body for a range of activities, and they can also help the body cool down gradually after exercise.
After a workout, the emphasis should be on exercises that help reduce body temperature.
A person might try some of the following dynamic stretches before exercising.
These can help warm up the shoulder muscles and joints. A person can also work them into a cool-down routine.
To perform arm circles:
- Stand up straight with the feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the arms out to the sides, keeping them at the height of the shoulders.
- Move the arms in a circular motion. Start with small circles and gradually widen them.
- Move the arms clockwise for 20 rotations, then repeat the movements in the opposite direction.
It is important to warm up the hip joints before any type of exercise. Having tight hip muscles can lead to injuries and other health issues that cause pain, such as iliotibial band syndrome.
To perform hip circles:
- Stand on one leg, using a wall or a heavy piece of furniture for support if necessary.
- Raise the other leg out to the side and move it in a circular motion.
- Perform 20 rotations with each leg.
This whole-body stretch is an ideal way to warm up. The motion is common in exercise routines, so this dynamic stretch may help prepare the body.
To perform squats:
- Stand with the feet hip-width apart.
- Gently lower the body into a squatting position, making sure the knees do not go past the toes.
- Squeeze the glutes — the muscles in the buttocks — when returning to a standing position.
- Repeat the movement 10 times.
The following stretches especially target the muscles of the lower body used in running.
Trainers sometimes suggest adding lunges to a workout, but these exercises can also help warm up the muscles in the lower legs, thighs, and buttocks.
To perform a walking lunge:
- From a standing position, step forward with one leg, making sure that the knee does not go past the ankle.
- Step forward to return to a standing position, and repeat with the opposite leg.
- Repeat this five times on each side.
Leg swings can help prepare for a lower body workout or a type of cardiovascular exercise, such as running or cycling.
To perform leg swings:
- Stand up straight and lift one leg. Use a wall or a heavy piece of furniture for support, if necessary.
- Gently swing the leg forward and backward, like a pendulum. Keep the knee straight or bent.
- Repeat the swinging motion with the opposite leg.
- Perform 20 repetitions on each side.
This helps prime the body for running. It simulates running in a slower, gentler fashion.
To perform high knees:
- Stand up straight, and slowly bring one knee up toward the chest.
- Return to the starting position, and do the same with the other knee.
- Continue to alternate knees, increasing the speed as the body warms up.
- Aim for 20 repetitions on each side.
The following target the muscles of the upper body.
This stretch is an excellent way to prepare for an upper body workout.
To perform arm swings:
- Stand up straight with the arms in a neutral position.
- Bring the arms up and around, as if to hug the chest.
- Let the arms go and allow the momentum to create a swinging motion.
- Repeat this about 15 times or until the upper body begins to feel loose and warm.
Upper body twist
Before working on the upper body, it is also important to warm up the torso and spine.
To perform an upper body twist:
- Stand up straight, with the feet shoulder-width apart. Raise the arms to the height of the shoulders.
- Rotate the body from side to side without moving the torso.
- Repeat this 5–10 times.
This whole-body functional movement stretches out the spine, neck, and shoulders. It is also a popular yoga pose and an excellent cool-down exercise.
To perform this stretch:
- Get down on all fours with the hands directly under the shoulders. Make sure the back is flat.
- First, arch the back and lower the head, like a cat.
- Hold for 10 seconds, slowly breathing in and out.
- Next, move into the cow position by lowering the belly and raising the head.
- Hold this for 10 seconds.
- Alternate from cat to cow position four times.
It is crucial to limit physical activities while injured. If a stretch or movement causes any pain, stop doing it.
Some dynamic stretches can put excess strain on the body and are not suitable for people with certain health issues. For example, squats can stress the joints and may not be ideal for people with knee injuries or arthritis.
Also, maintaining proper form is essential. It is better to perform a movement slowly and safely than to risk injury.
Dynamic stretching involves doing movements that extend the muscles, while static stretching involves extending a set of muscles and holding the position.
Dynamic stretching may be especially effective at warming up the body before exercise.
As with any athletic activity, a person should focus on maintaining proper form and immediately stop any movement that causes pain.