There was a time when your track or cross country coach would have you flop on the ground and engage in a bunch of stretches prior to heading out on a run. Most of these stretches were static stretches, which can actually do your body more harm than good. Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, does a body good. But what exactly is dynamic stretching?
What Is Static Stretching?
The most familiar of all stretching, static stretching, is the kind we remember from the physical education of our youth. This is where you stretch a muscle as far as you can, holding in that position for anywhere from :20 to :60 seconds. While it was very popular at one time, now most people are starting to understand the potential problems of static stretching.
In static stretching, the athlete is usually working on one muscle or group of muscles at a time. To remind yourself of a static stretch sit on the ground with your legs out in front of you. If you reach to touch your toes and hold, that is a static stretch.
Prior to any static stretching, the human body needs to be warmed up.
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
This type of stretching is done with movement. In these active movements, your joints and muscles work together to get warmed up. In dynamic stretching, there is no portion where you “hold” in one place. Rather, you keep moving the body part around.
Sometimes dynamic stretches actually work to mimic the movement your body will be needing to make in your sport or exercise. For example, a competitive swimmer might do breaststroke movements with their arms prior to jumping in the pool. A softball pitcher might make circular motions with her arms.
What Is The Difference Between Static And Dynamic Stretching?
There are a few major differences between static and dynamic stretching.
✓ Dynamic stretching involves movement. You are literally moving either a single part (or multiple parts) of your body in order to properly warm it up.
✓ Static stretching only has movement at the very beginning as you get your muscle into the proper position. Once you get into the stretch, you pause and hold.
✓ Dynamic stretching does not have any type of “hold” at the top of the stretch.
✓ In static stretching, you use gentle, controlled movements that will gradually result in your muscles having a larger range of motion. The goal is to get to where you can bend deeper.
What Is The Focus Of Dynamic Stretching?
The focus of dynamic stretching is often so you can increase your flexibility in a particular sport. However, it has come to encompass so much more in recent years.
Dynamic stretching is far more gentle and forgiving on your body than static stretching. Since you are exercising and warming up a targeted group of muscles, you control how quickly you are moving ahead. This gives your body time to acclimate to what you are asking of it.
Dynamic Stretching For Runners
Runners are a group of athletes who have actually used dynamic stretching for many years. Cognizant of the fact that movement is the best way to loosen things up, runners tend to gravitate toward that for warm-up.
Leg Swings are a great way to prepare your lower body for any kind of movement. Standing with one hand on a fence, wall or another stable item, you then swing the opposite leg front and back. You can also swing your leg from side to side alternating the swing from going in front to behind your body. As you do this and find yourself warming up, you can gently increase your range of motion.
Walking Lunge a walking lunge is just like it sounds. You are moving forward while lunging. As your body gets warmed up you will find that you can lunge deeper.
Butt Kicks in Push Up Position are an excellent whole-body movement. You start by doing simple pushups. After a couple, work on kicking your leg up toward your butt when in the straight arm plank part of the push-up.
Walking Knee Hugs are a simple yet effective dynamic stretch. You walk and with each step, bring one knee up to your chest into a big bear hug.
Similar to dynamic stretches, many athletes incorporate a dynamic warm-up. An excellent way to warm up your body for a challenging workout, dynamic warm-ups get the blood pumping and the rest of your body ready to roll. There are many excellent warm-up activities you can do that will help ready your body for physical activity.
Butt Kicks as you run forward are another great way to stretch your body. Just think about kicking up toward your butt with each step you take forward.
High Knees are another excellent stretch to try. You should be getting your knees up nice and high, almost in an exaggerated movement, as you run ahead.
Power Skips are when you skip your way forward. You can power skip for height or for distance. When skipping for height, you are moving your skip up in an exaggerated motion. When skipping for distance, you are getting as far as you can with each bound forward.
When Is Static Stretching Safe?
Although there are varying opinions on this, it seems that static stretching is safest in your cool down. This is because we are assuming you have warmed up before your workout, have completed your workout, and are now stretching warm muscles.
As you ease your body from being physically active to inactivity, slower motions make sense. At this time, it is okay to stretch something and hold the position. Similar to when practicing yoga, when you go from fluid movements to a position where you will momentarily hold in place, with static stretching as part of a cooldown you are doing something similar.
If you really feel compelled to static stretch for the best interest of your body, the best way to do that is between the dynamic warm-up and/or stretches and whatever workout you plan on doing. This way your muscles will not be cold when stretching.