Dynamic stretching is a movement-based means of increasing range of motion, warming muscles, and preparing the body for peak physical performance. Here’s a deeper look at this awesome tool for increasing flexibility and athletic performance.
A surprising number of people don’t know the difference between static and dynamic stretching.
In fact, many of them haven’t even heard of the terms—to them, stretching is just “stretching”.
Well, let me tell you, there’s a HUGE difference between the two.
Though the end-goal is generally the same (easier, more fluid movement), the path to reaching results is wildly different.
Below, I’ll walk you through the differences between static and dynamic stretching, talk about why dynamic stretching is so good for you, and when to do it. Plus, I’ll share with you some lower and upper body dynamic stretches you should be including in every pre-workout warm-up and post-workout cool down session.
By the end of this post, you’ll know everything you need to know about dynamic stretching, and be ready to incorporate it into your workouts.
Dynamic Stretching vs Static Stretching
Let’s start off by looking at the differences between the two types of stretching:
Static stretches are stretches that lengthen/extend your muscles and remain in that position for an extended period of time. This is done to increase range of motion and increase flexibility in stiff, tight joint and muscle tissue.
Dynamic stretches, on the other hand, involve motion. They work your body through a normal range of motion—the same motion you’re going to do during your workout.
For example, you might do deep squats as dynamic leg stretches before workout sessions involving lots of squats. By moving your body through that full range of motion, you enable fluidity of movement and “prime” your body for your more intense training session.
The Benefits of Dynamic Stretching
Why should you switch from your tried-and-true static stretches to the more active dynamic stretches? You’d be amazed by how much that switch can benefit you, not the least of which is that stretching can help you build muscle.
- No reduction in strength, performance, or power. This is one negative side effect of static stretches. Static stretches lengthen the muscle and joints, but research proved that they also reduced strength, performance, and power afterward. With dynamic stretches, there is no reduction—on the contrary, it can actually lead to increases.
- Better preparation for active movement. Dynamic stretches are particularly effective for any sport or activity that involves a lot of running and jumping. They have been proven to increase explosive power, vertical jump height, and acceleration.
- Increase muscle strength and range of motion. Static stretches just focus on the range of motion, but dynamic stretches also incorporate strength-building into the mix. This means that your muscles will be stronger throughout that full range of motion—contracted or extended—leading to better overall strength.
These benefits are added on top of the fact that dynamic stretches, like static stretches, will help to loosen up stiff, tight, and tired muscles and joints.
They’re really a step above static stretches, the best choice to help you get ready for a hardcore, active training session.
When is the Best Time to Do Dynamic Stretches?
Ideally, you want to incorporate them:
- Before your workout, when your muscles need to be warmed up and your joints loosened.
- During your workout (between sets), when they’ll help to increase recovery, drain away lactic acid, and stave off muscle fatigue.
- After your workout, when you want to eliminate any lactic acid that will bring on post-workout muscle soreness—thereby shortening recovery time.
My Favorite Dynamic Stretches
Trainer’s Note: Make sure any stretches you do are controlled, slow, and coordinated. Because you’re just warming up, your muscles and joints are at risk of injury if you move too fast or push too hard right away.
Stretch 1: Arm Circles
Give this upper body dynamic stretch high priority in your pre- and post-workout stretching sessions!
Not only does it help to increase blood flow to your arms, but it will also stretch out and loosen shoulder, neck, and arm muscles that might be stiff after hours spent hunched over a computer or standing with incorrect posture.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand with your feet spread a comfortable width apart (usually shoulder-width) and your arms extended out directly to your side at shoulder height.
- Swing your arms forward in small, tightly controlled circles. After 10 circles, reverse direction and swing backward for another 10.
- Swing your arms forward again, this time in slightly larger circles. Your arms should rise no higher than the top your head or drop lower than your ribs. Again, perform 10 circles rotating forward, then another 10 backward.
- Swing your arms forward in a full extension, forming circles as large as you can. Repeat for another 10 forward and 10 backward.
Stretch 2: Leg Swings
Limber up your hips and make lower body movement a whole lot easier with this stretch. It will be an absolute game-changer to increase mobility and strength in your hip flexors, which play a critical role in quite literally every leg exercise.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand with your right hand gripping a wall, post, bar, or something for support.
- Lift your right leg off the ground, and swing it up in front of you. Aim to swing as high as your waist level.
- Allow your leg to swing backward behind you, and use the momentum and a bit of hip strength to lift it to the level of your butt.
- Repeat 10-15 times (forward and backward), then switch to your left leg.
Don’t just save this stretch for your workouts! If you spend long hours sitting every day, take a break every hour and spend 2 minutes on this stretch. It will do wonders to loosen up your hip muscles, which tend to get stiff and tight after sitting down.
Stretch 3: High Knees
This is an amazing dynamic stretch to warm your body up before a run, jog, cycling session, sprint training workout, or Leg Day. It will get your heart pumping, your blood flowing, and your hip, leg, and core muscles working.
To perform this stretch:
- Start in a comfortable position, with your feet spread roughly shoulder width apart. Let your arms hang down in front of you and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle, your forearms extend straight out from your body.
- Bring your right knee up to touch your hands, then switch to bring your left knee up as you place your right foot down.
- Repeat as fast as you can, simulating “running in place” and bringing your knees up to your palms.
- Repeat 20-30 times per side.
Stretch 4: Walking Lunges
Walking lunges are an amazing lower body dynamic warm-up because it simulates the exact movement you’ll be doing during a lunge-heavy workout.
It doesn’t involve any weight—just your bodyweight—so it won’t place undue strain on your hips, legs, glutes, or lower back.
And because you’re walking through the lunge, it will feel like a very natural, fluid movement.
To perform this stretch:
- Stand with your feet together and your hands on your hips.
- Step your right foot forward into a lunge position. Lower until just before your left knee touches the floor—and your right knee is at roughly a 90-degree angle.
- Push forward off your left foot and step forward, bringing your feet together once again.
- Now, step your left foot forward into the lunge, lowering until your left knee hits a 90-degree angle and your right knee almost touches the ground.
- Repeat 10-15 times per foot.
Stretch 5: Torso Twist
This dynamic stretch will help to loosen up your abdominal, spinal, and oblique muscles, facilitating more fluid rotations of the torso.
It’s a great option for anyone warming up to play sports, or before a workout that will involve a lot of twisting movements.
To perform this stretch:
- Start with your feet planted shoulder-width apart. Bring your arms to shoulder height, and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle so your forearms are parallel to each other.
- Twist to your right, swiveling your arms and rotating your torso without moving your legs. Stop twisting when you feel stiffness and tension in your lower back.
- Twist all the way to the left now, again stopping when you hit the “stiff point”.
- Repeat 10-15 times per side.
Dynamic Stretches – FAQs
Can dynamic stretching help prevent injury?
Absolutely! Because dynamic stretching warms your body up by using natural movement, it helps prepare your muscles and joints for the movements it will be doing during your workout.
For example, a deep squat will limber up the soft muscle and joint tissue that will be engaged when you squat, lunge, or leg press.
Thanks to the fact that you’re working through a full range of motion, you’ll be less likely to injure yourself by over-extending during training or sporting activity.
How long should I do dynamic stretches before a workout?
You don’t need to spend too long warming up before your workout. Just 10-15 minutes of stretching (including a few static stretches to start off) will help to limber you up and loosen your stiff, tight muscles or joints.
Move on to a few dynamic stretches that get blood flowing and work your joints and muscles through a full range of motion, and you’re ready to hit the weights, run the track, or tackle that hill run!
The Bottom Line
Dynamic stretching and static stretching both deserve a place in your workout routine, but it’s clear dynamic stretching is the far more effective solution to help you get ready for an intense, active training session.
Incorporate more dynamic stretches into your workout—before, between sets, and after—and I guarantee you’ll see better results, fewer injuries, less muscle soreness, and greater strength gains.
Talk about #GOALS!
More Stretching Guides
Looking for some guidance with putting together an excellent stretching routine for yourself?
There are some excellent programs and apps out there that can help every type of athlete, gymgoer, and person get more flexible and enjoy all the benefits that come along with it, including less injury, reduced stiffness, better body movement, and so on.
I’ve tried TONS of them over the years.
Below are reviews and roundups of some of the programs I’ve personally used and programs that I’ve recommended to clients.
Hyperbolic Stretching — An Athlete’s Full Review. Hyperbolic Stretching is a digital program that can help increase flexibility and even increase muscle mass. Here’s a detailed look at this program and who it’s right for.
The Best Stretching Programs and Apps for Improving Flexibility. Looking for a stretching program or app to help you kick up your flexibility? Here’s a detailed look at the top stretching apps for every level of user.