What is Dynamic Stretching? Here are 6 Dynamic Stretching Exercises to Start Your Day
Stretching may seem like a small addition to your physical activity routine, but it’s been a lifesaver for me—at any time of the day. In the morning, I warm up for my workout with some stretching. When I need some quiet time alone, I hit the backyard for a mid-day stretch session. When I’m sitting too long at my desk and start to get cranky, a quick stretching break makes my mood (and my body) feel better in minutes.
Stretching helps me decompress, connect with my inner self, and fight the chronic pain that’s plagued me for years. That’s why I always make it a point to fit in at least 20 minutes of stretching every day. It’s a perfect way to energize and relax all at once.
But did you know that all stretching isn’t created equal? Some moves offer more benefits than others, while others can be downright dangerous.
Let’s look closer at one of the most beneficial types: dynamic stretching.
What Is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a different activity than static stretching, which is the kind of stretching many people are familiar with. Static stretching involves holding a move in place, while dynamic stretching requires movement rather than staying still. However, it’s performed without bouncing—this is called ballistic stretching and has been associated with muscle injury and pain, so you’ll want to avoid this type altogether.
In addition, while most people think of stretching as a warm-up activity, in the case of dynamic stretching, you’ll want to start with a warm-up first. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends, before a dynamic stretching routine, warming up for 5 to 10 minutes. This can involve a walk or light jog, a ride on a stationary bike, or taking the body through moves that utilize the body’s normal range of motion (versus elongating or creating tension in the muscle, as is done in stretching).
After this warm-up, dynamic stretches can be implemented from a ground position or while standing, increasing in pace until you feel properly prepared for your workout. And the NASM points out that dynamic stretches, done at a slower pace, are also useful for cooling down after a workout ends.
The Benefits of Dynamic Stretching
The benefits of stretching in general include improved range of motion for joints, better athletic performance, increased blood flow to the muscles, reduced risk of exercise-related injury, and assistance in protecting brain health. However numerous studies have examined dynamic stretching in particular, and results have pointed to additional benefits when compared with other types.
One such study, which looked at the effects of implementing dynamic stretching on hamstrings before exercising, concluded that it both increased flexibility and reduced stiffness in muscles. But these researchers also pointed to previous studies that found a range of other benefits: improving muscle strength, muscle power, sprint time, vertical jump performance, and golf swing performance, to name a few.
6 Rejuvenating Dynamic Stretching Exercises
Ready to start your own daily stretching routine? Try these basics first thing in the morning—or anytime you need a body-boosting break throughout your day.
This full-body stretch strengthens your body’s core—which improves balance and posture—and upper body, while working and stretching the legs, too. Stand with your feet shoulder-length apart and bend forward, touching your palms to the floor. Walk your hands out until your body is straight and parallel to the ground, ending in a plank position. After a pause, go back in reverse, moving the hands backward and ending in a standing position.
2. Arm Circles
Arm circles are great for warming up your shoulders, back, arms, and core. Plus, I love that they can be done in a variety of ways: Make big circles or small ones and move your arms forward or backward—each offers its own benefits. Simply stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your arms to the sides, parallel to the ground. Circle your arms while engaging your core. This exercise can help prevent injuries to your shoulders’ rotator cuffs, which are relatively common, especially among older people.
3. Hip Circles
We can store a lot of tension in our hips, thanks to many Americans’ modern sedentary lifestyles. Sitting for so long can cause stiffness and soreness. Open up your hip flexors while working the buttocks and abductor muscles (and improving overall balance) with hip circles. Stand with feet hip-width apart, then pull your right knee up until your thigh is parallel with the floor. Move the knee outward in a circular motion until you return to the parallel position. After a set, repeat on the other side. You can also do this exercise on the floor, starting on all fours and circling each knee outward.
4. Walking Lunges
Lunges are one of my favorite exercises for the lower body because they target so many muscles: calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, inner and outer thighs, hips, and glutes. Plus, they help create better balance. For walking lunges, you walk forward rather than returning to the start position as you would with a traditional lunge. Stand with feet hip-width apart, step forward with your right foot, and bend your left knee without letting it touch the ground. The right knee should be at about a 90-degree angle to the floor. Then raise your body up to stand and march your left leg in front, following the same 90-degree formation. Continue alternating legs.
5. Shoulder Rolls
Be honest: How many hours per day do you spend hunched over your smartphone, computer, or steering wheel? You may be hunched over reading this right now! Our shoulders get so tensed up throughout the day that shoulder rolls are an absolute must. Do them as often as possible. (You might even set an alarm a couple of times per day to remind you to take a little stretch break, mixing and matching any or all of the moves here.) Simply stand or sit and roll your shoulders forward and then backward. Try to make the biggest circles you can without straining. You’ll release tension on the spot, and you’ll increase flexibility and boost circulation in the shoulder area.
Years ago, after my mother had a fall and was in a fragile state, I immediately prescribed squats as part of her recovery. These are important to maintain the muscles that help us get up and down from a chair or toilet—and that’s especially important as we get older. (If you’re elderly, injured, or just starting out exercising, you can safely do squats with the use of a chair in front of you to hold on to, plus a chair behind you to squat down over.) Simply stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and put your hands together in a prayer position or extend your arms straight in front of you. With your feet flat, push your weight back and squat down. Make sure your knees stay over your toes and don’t reach beyond them. As you squat, maintain a straight posture, so that your back doesn’t round. Push yourself back up to a standing position and squeeze your buttocks at the top.
Stretching for Muscle Health and Mental Health
Flexibility exercises may not get as much glory in the fitness world as cardio or strength training, but they are every bit as important for physical and mental well-being. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, when it comes to total muscle health, nothing is as important as stretching.
Here’s an easy challenge: Try putting aside 5 to 10 minutes every day to stretch. Check-in with your body before you start the challenge, then monitor how you feel after just 1 week. I guarantee you’ll notice marked improvements—in both your body and your stress levels!
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