Warm Up with Dynamic Stretching

Jill Miller by Jill Miller | March 5th, 2010 | 8 Comments
topic: Family Health, Fitness, Health & Wellness, Healthy Aging, Pilates, Yoga

Back in my college years, along with practicing Iyengar and Sivananda yoga, I studied dance, including modern, ballet, jazz, African, Butoh and more. The part of class I loved the most was doing the warm-ups. I totally sucked at the combinations and the jumps, so once the warm-ups ended, I often dashed out of class without being noticed. Those first 20 minutes just felt so good! They melted away my stress and chipped through my body frozen from my winter-logged Chicago campus.

I now understand from an anatomical and physiological standpoint why I loved those first 20 minutes of warm-ups so much. And I am even happier to report that the art of dynamic stretching prior to any athletic endeavor (even yoga!) is now making national headlines.

What is dynamic stretching?

Dynamic movement implies that the body never stops in a still or static position, but the body just keeps moving from one motion to the next. This type of action improves circulation and warms up the tissues of the body.

One of the best ways to understand the natural process of dynamic stretching is to watch a cat wake up from a nap. It progressively moves its body every which way, one motion tumbling into the next in a primal organic sequence. The cat will intuitively improve upon the effectiveness of its dynamic stretching by contracting its muscles while it is lengthening them to maximize the internal friction and hasten fluids back into the muscles, connective tissues and joints.

For a great example of a dynamic pre-yoga or pre-athletic warm-up, click here.

Why does it feel so good?

When we move our bodies fully, encouraging motion into every joint and muscle fiber in the body, we aid in loosening up adhesions that regularly grow between the sliding surfaces of muscles all over our body. When we are stagnant, we literally grow internal moss all over our musculature. This “inner moss” is fascia, an important connective tissue webbing that strings our body together. However, fascia can grow like an inner scab over places in our body that are not utilized for movement. Sometimes this is helpful, for example in protecting a muscle that has been injured. However, fascia does not distinguish between an injured muscle and a “lazy” or underused muscle. It will just grow and continue to restrict movement unless it is regularly mobilized, as in a massage or specific motions that help activate heat and stretch within the muscles, tendons and connective tissues.

When we dynamically stretch away our restrictions by breaking apart our tension areas, we feel better physiologically and psychologically! (Check out this video by Gil Hedley to learn more about the break up of stagnant fascia with stretching.)

How does it improve performance?

Dynamic stretching warms up and excites our “fast twitch” and “intermediate twitch” muscle fibers — these are the specialized fibers within our muscles that contract at a fast rate to maximize power and force. These need to be trained and turned on in order to make fast movements on the playing field or dance floor. Dynamic stretching has been proven to stimulate these responses within our muscles and dramatically increase a body’s effectiveness in competition.

What about static stretching?

Static stretching implies that a body is at a still point and the muscles are held under consistent pressure for a duration of time. Physiologically, it calms down the responsiveness of those fast-twitching muscle fibers and diminishes their power. This is the ideal type of stretching after athletic output, as it calms the nervous system, resets and improves the resting length of muscles, and effectively rehydrates muscles and connective tissues so that you are less sore the next day.

Targeted static stretching should be done after exertion to also address any imbalances or repetitive stresses that your sport demands. For example, a golfer who is always twisting to one side can end up developing a patterned scoliosis in the spine if he or she doesn’t address the over-contracting on one side and the over-lengthening on the other, which is caused by the repeated abrupt rotations of their swing. This is also true for tennis players who tend to overuse their dominant side. Runners regularly suffer training imbalances from the repetition of their stride. Static stretching helps to reset their joints so that their stride actually improves for the next day’s run (after their dynamic stretches of course).

Enjoy this post-run static stretch from my brand new Yoga Tune Up® DVD Post Athletic Stretch Routines, which includes a bonus pre-athletic dynamic stretch warm-up! And enjoy your favorite sport for years to come!

Comments

  1. A-ha! Now I get it. when I first started with dynamic stretching, I could feel the fascia being broken up as I stretched. And as I read this article, I recognize now that most of this fascia is gone, at least the portions that I used to feel on a large scale becoming unhitched, freeing the muscles. I must admit it felt very good when it happened.

    I can definitely recommend dynamic stretching.

    Eric Johnson | March 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Dynamic stretching for the win! I really see the difference in my students when we start class that way. And I feel it in my body too!

    Sarah | March 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. This is a fantastic blog, i really do believe in dynamic stretching, ever since i started using them i could feel a huge difference in my ability to perform my sport at my best every time i play. It’s a good feeling also to know that it can reduce the possibility of a muscle tear or of some similar injury.

    Benno The Dynamic Stretch Enthusiast | September 30th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. i’d already decided recently to incorporate light dynamic stretching prior to a light vinyasa flow i plan to do with fellow seniors, based on studies for AFAA’s group fitness instructor cert, so it is really nice to see such good detailed info, plus links, here on jill miller’s blog post (i was lead to this via her two part interview with Magazine of Yoga, great stuff if you haven’t seen it yet) :

    http://themagazineofyoga.com/

    adan | January 12th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  5. Jill, very interesting if somewhat over the top with some of the technical terms. What I want to know is will seniors, 67 years plus, get benefit and how. In plain English please!

    Ed Lange | March 27th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  6. Hi Ed,

    Dynamic stretching is helpful for people of all ages….especially seniors. It increases the production of synovial fluid in the joints, safely heats up the muscles and connective tissues and prepares the muscles for more stressful events like exercise and sports performance. I hope that explanation helps!

    Jill Miller | March 28th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  7. Thank you for distinguishing between the two styles of stretching. Many people are confused and get mixed up on when and why they stretch.

    Nick Outlaw | December 24th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  8. Thanks for this fantastic article! What I’ve been feeling in my body all makes sense now!

    Angela | February 21st, 2012 | Comment Permalink

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