Are you confused about which kind of stretch you should do before your run? Should you be moving? Should you hold it? When it comes to stretching, there are two main methods: Dynamic stretching, which involves moving muscles, and static, which involves no motion. In my opinion, far too many runners only stretch statically before their workout, when they’d be far better off carrying out dynamic movements.
Dynamic stretching is a series of leg and arm movements performed in a smooth, controlled manner that take the body to the limits of its range of motion. These actions can be altered to become more advanced by gradually increasing the reach, speed of movement, or both. Good examples of dynamic stretches for runners include front to back leg swings, side to side leg swings and the Spiderman stretch, just to name a few.
So what are the benefits of dynamic movements, and why should the more traditional static stretches be replaced by them, particularly during the warm-up phase of exercise?
Firstly, because they use motions similar to those that an individual undertakes when in competition or during the main workout. Therefore, they effectively simulate a performance experience. In my opinion, it doesn’t make much sense for someone to statically stretch, then take part in a vigorous workout where none of their muscles have already carried out similar movements. There is far more likelihood of an injury occurring as well as a decreased performance.
A further benefit of dynamic stretching is that it physically prepares you for action by raising the temperature of the body and by increasing the heart rate, which means the body is ready to cope with the stresses that it is about to face. Just stretching statically will not adequately get you ready for activity and a cooler body will find it a lot tougher to handle the demands that the main event will bring, whether it’s a race, a track session or a gym workout.
Dynamic stretches don’t just prepare you physically, but also mentally. A warm-up that is primarily made up of static stretches can often feel like a relaxed rest period where the mind can wander from the task in hand. However, this is the time that you should be fully focused and the fact that a dynamic warm-up is movement based means that a competitor can’t switch off.
A dynamic warm-up can be undertaken with very little space and no equipment too. In a race setting, this is hugely beneficial, as there are often many participants waiting around the start line with no equipment available. Just find a small patch of grass and get ready in an ideal fashion by carrying out a series of swings, drills, lunges etc.
Last but by no means least, dynamic stretching really does increase your flexibility. If you’re looking to become more flexible, these stretches are extremely effective in lengthening your muscles, not just during the workout, but once you’ve left the gym or the sports field. Over the years, I’ve had far better results with my clients who have stretched dynamically, and I constantly tell them to do such movements on their own.
Though I am a firm believer in the effectiveness of dynamic, I’m not suggesting that you totally eliminate the static stretches that you may be used to. They can serve you well in the cool down phase and can help you to relax and reflect after an intense workout. However, if you do want to do them, make sure you do so at the end of the session, not at the start.
So if you haven’t already, I’d suggest trying some dynamic stretches before your next run. If you’re unsure about how to perform these movements, seek some guidance from a fitness professional. Having a great warm-up routine in place will ensure that when that timer starts or that gun fires, you’ll be raring to go.