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Dynamic Stretching vs Static Stretching: Which is Better and Why?

In recent years, there has been an ongoing debate between dynamic versus static stretching and when it is appropriate to do one versus the other. Remembering to incorporate proper warm-ups and cool-downs before and after participating in an exercise regimen or sporting activity is very important to both avoid injury and allow your cardiovascular system to more smoothly adapt to the increased demands placed upon it.

So what is dynamic stretching? Dynamic stretching is active stretching using controlled movements, with care not to bounce (popularly known in the 60s and 70s as ballistic stretching) so as to not set off stretch receptors that shorten the muscles (defeating the purpose of stretching).   Dynamic stretching involves continuous movement through a larger than average range of motion in order to gain increased functional flexibility.

Then what is static stretching? Static stretching is when you hold one position for twenty seconds or longer (can hold longer if prefer) in order to elongate that specific muscle. Static stretching is designed to target a specific muscle or muscle group, one at a time to lengthen them.

So which is better to do before exercise and which is better to perform after exercise/sporting activity? Dynamic stretching is preferred prior to beginning exercise and sporting activity (such as running, swimming, or biking). This kind of stretching is used to help increase blood flow to the muscles and helps prepare the muscles for activity. Static stretching should be performed following activity. Once you have completed your sporting event or workout, gentle static stretches can help to increase the muscle tissue extensibility and therefore, the length of individual muscle groups (i.e., the quads or hamstrings). 

Dynamic stretching helps you accomplish many performance goals.  These functional stretches increase joint range of motion, improve your awareness of your joint(s) position(s) (also known as proprioception), as well as assist in improving your athletic performance. Some studies report that static stretching prior to activity has been shown to decrease the ability of the muscle to function during sport because of its new lengthened state...yet another reason why dynamic stretching is preferred over static stretching before activity.

Static stretches at the end of your workout have been shown to improve your flexibility and should be done to maintain normal range of motion and keep the muscle tissue healthy and at the most biomechanically efficient length.  These should be performed both after cardiovascular activity/sport as well as part of a regular routine that you maintain on a daily basis.

What kind of dynamic stretches are going to be beneficial for you if you are trying to get ready for a run for example?  Many different muscle groups get used when you go out for a run and it is important that you appropriately warm up each group to avoid injury and maximize performance. Hip flexors drive your legs up, gluteus maximus pushes you forward, and hamstrings assist with extending your hip and helping to drive you forward. Hip flexor and hamstring muscle pulls/tears are a common running injury, which is why preparing them beforehand in an appropriate manner is so crucial. Consider warming up your back and arms as well since your body functions as one long dynamic chain.

 

Here are some examples of good dynamic stretches to do before running:

  • Walking Lunge with Twist

             Perform a deep lunge, as this will stretch your hip flexors; then, twist your trunk to the opposite direction of your lead leg (ex: if your left leg is forward then you would twist to the right)- this will stretch your trunk/abdomen.

  • Leg Swings

                While standing near a wall or a fence (in case you need a balance touch point), swing your leg up in the air, gradually increasing the height. This will stretch your hip flexors/extensors as well as hip rotators.

  • Butt Kicks

                 Over 15-25 feet, jog forward raising your heels towards your gluts as quickly as you can, this will warm up your hamstrings

  • Straight Leg Kicks

                Keeping your leg straight kick as high in the air as you can, with the opposite arm reach towards your toes. Repeat with the opposite leg.  This will warm up your hip flexors/extensors, calves and quads/hamstrings.

  • High Knees

               Over 15-25 feet, jog forward raising your knees as high as you can and as quickly as you can. This will warm up your hip flexors and calves

These are certainly not the only dynamic stretches that would be beneficial prior to going out for a run, but hopefully it's a good start. Another general concept to keep in mind is to consider your current level of fitness before attempting any new and higher level of activity.  And although stretching is a necessary component in any exercise routine, you may want to consult a medical professional, such as your physical therapist or physician to see what level of activity might be most appropriate for you.

Should you have any questions regarding a sports-related injury or just want to optimize your sports performance, please call us at (630) 230-9565 or email us at info@dptsport.com.  DPT Sport is the premier physical therapy and wellness clinic in the Burr Ridge/Hinsdale area, offering conservative and post-surgical sports rehabilitation as well as custom sports enhancement and injury prevention programs.