In Mobility and Stability are the Keys to Improving Movement Efficiency, we learned the importance of full joint movement in moving well. Then we discussed the many things that can cause mobility limitations in What Causes Poor Mobility.
In Mobility Part 1 we discovered the most common reason for mobility issues is soft tissue restrictions. We learned how to remove soft tissue restrictions with the use of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) techniques using foam rollers, balls and other tools.
Another very common reason for a lack of mobility in a joint is the lack of tissue elasticity. The muscles are like rubber bands, they lengthen and shorten to create movement. As they lengthen or stretch when we move a body part, other reciprocal muscles resist to help slow down the movement. If the rubber band is too tight, motion is restricted. If the rubber band is overstretched, the muscles do not extend back properly.
Your muscles need a certain amount of tension to create strong, healthy movement. Dynamic stretching in one way to improve mobility due to poor tissue elasticity.
An important point is that static stretching is not mobility. Static stretching or holding a passive muscle position for a length of time, can actually inhibit the amount of force that a muscle can produce and it can decrease performance if done before a workout.
Numerous studies (1,2) have proven that static stretching can be counterproductive to athletic performance. We will discuss static stretching in a later article, because there is a time and place for it, but not as a warm up before an exercise period. Static stretching is best after the exercise session concludes, or for use in people with muscle imbalances or needing restorative flexibility.
Dynamic stretching on the other hand is beneficial to increasing mobility and studies have shown (3,4) that “dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session” (5).
Benefits of Dynamic Stretching
- Improves flexibility.
- Combats the effects of aging by maintaining and regaining flexibility.
- Protects from injury.
- Increases the range of motion.
- Boosts athletic performance through force and tension.
- Increases blood flow to muscles.
- Increases lubrication of connective tissue, making you supple.
- Relieves lower back pain.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
- Dynamic stretching is rhythmically moving your joints within their full range of motion to mimic a particular sport or activity.
- It incorporates postural control, stability, balance, and explosive movements.
- It utilizes basic movement patterns such as hinging, squatting, lunging, and swinging to bring joints through the full movement patterns.
Examples of Dynamic Stretching Routines:
- Arm Circles:
Extend arms out, parallel to the floor. Slowly rotate each arm in tight circles in a forward motion. Gradually make the circles wider until you get to 8 to 10 repetitions (reps). Then reverse the direction and do 8 to 10 more reps, starting small and again increasing the circle size.
Hold onto a wall, counter, pole or golf club and swing one leg at a time front to back 10 times. Start with small swings and increase the arc as you get higher in reps. Then swing the same leg side to side in front of the foot, and then swing 10 times behind the planted foot. Now do the same for the other leg.
3. Hip Circles:
Stand with knees below shoulders, rotate your hips clockwise for 8 -10 large circles. Then switch directions and rotate the other way for 8-10 circles.
4. Toy Soldier Walk:
Walk forward with legs stiff, knees straight and toes flexed back toward you. Every time you lift a leg, try to touch the toe with the alternate arm. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.
5. High Knees:
As you walk back to your original position raise each leg high so the knee taps your extended arm in front of you. You can vary the speed from a walk to a quick tempo. Walk for 10 – 20 yards.
6. Butt Kickers:
As you take a step, extend the leg toward the rear and try and kick your butt with your heel. This can be done at a slow speed or rapid tempo. Walk for 10 – 20 yards doing the butt kickers.
7. Standing Torso Twist:
a. Horizontal – place arms straight out from sides, slowly twist so the left arm is facing directly in front of you fully extended, the right arm is now behind your back, fully extended parallel to the ground. Now twist to the left so the right arm is in front and the left arm is behind you. Keep your head and neck aligned with your torso, do not crane your neck. Do this 10 times slowly in each direction.
b. Rotational – same as above except the arms rotate out diagonally during the extension and you keep one up high while the other drops low.
8. Air Squats (Body Weight):
Stand with knees shoulder width apart, and your arms held out in front of your body. Slowly drop down toward the ground while pushing your butt back, like you are going to sit on a toilet. Keep your knees behind your toes and swing your arms back to your side as you approach the bottom. Then slowly rise back up, bringing the arms out in front of you. Try to get to where your upper leg is below the hip crease (below parallel).
a. Forward – Step forward dropping one knee to the ground and keeping your hands on your hips. Once the knee touches the ground, raise back up and alternate legs so the other leg steps forward and touches the ground.
b. Walking Lunge – keep walking forward with each step for 10-20 step.
b. Reverse – Once you get comfortable with the front lunge, you can drop the knee to the rear and do reverse lunges.
c. Lunge With Upper Body Rotation – once in the lunge, extend the arms overhead and twist the torso to the side of the raised knee. On the next step, twist to the opposite side.
Vary Your Dynamic Warm Up
Try to expand your movements to go beyond the basic flexing and extending patterns. Incorporate side to side moves, twisting, bending, and diagonal movements. The more you move the body, the better the movements become and the better you feel.
The beauty of dynamic stretching is it can be incorporated into your warm up and it can do specific movement patterns for your sport. The Golf Swing Warm Up video demonstrates dynamic stretches and warm ups that will assist any golfer in getting ready for 18 holes of golf. It is amazing what 5 minutes of warm up and mobility prep can do to prepare your body for your sport. Most people who practice the warm up routine for 2 to 4 weeks report improved performance and decreasing levels of discomfort after their sport.
- Never stretch while cold, always warm up first. Spend at least 5 minutes doing an active warm up (jogging, rowing, jump roping etc) or doing dynamic stretches that get the body moving.
- Don’t bounce.
- Use active stretches that simulate your muscles for the activity or sport you will perform.
- Hold static stretches for the end of a workout when they are most effective.
- Tired muscles have limited elasticity, so if you train them when tired, they might remember a restricted range of motion.
Simple stretching alone rarely makes long-term changes. When tightness or mobility limitation is identified somewhere in the body, there is usually a weakness, overactivity or imbalance existing somewhere else in the body. Combining SMR techniques with dynamic stretching and joint distraction (Part 3 of this series) will go a long way toward improving mobility impairments.
The Science Daily reported on progress being made identifying Reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity (6). They found the combination of exercising and stretching leads to long-lasting yet reversible increases in flexibility. So it is important to establish a dynamic stretching routine as part of each daily movement session, followed up with static stretching after your workout. Today is the perfect time to start your movement practice. Five minutes a day will do wonders for you. Give it a try!
- Gergly, J.C. Department of Kinesiology and Human Science, Stephan F. Austin University. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013 April;27(4):973-7.
- Simic, L., Sarabon, N., Markovic, G. Motor Control and Human Performance Laboratory, University of Zagreb. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2013 Mar;23(2): 131-48.
- Zourdos, M. (2012). Effects of dynamic stretching on energy cost and running endurance performance in trained male runners. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(2), 335-41.
- Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.
- Greenfield, B. https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/fitness-articles/workouts-exercise-articles/mobility-for-endurance-athletes/
- Columbia University, March 13, 2014. reversible Mechanism that Increases Muscle Elasticity Discovered.