How to Properly Warm Up Prior To Exercise: Static vs. Dynamic Stretching

Stretching regularly is important for preventing injuries and improving — or maintaining — flexibility. Making a habit of stretching after intense workouts will help your muscles recover and grow evenly, preparing you for your next sweat sesh.

People all too often continue to warm up prior to exercise, or an athletic competition, with static stretching. Static stretching means that you hold a stretch for a prolonged period of time, such as 30 to 60 seconds. In past decades, it was believed that static stretching prior to exercise was necessary in order to help prevent injury and improve performance. However, research over the past 20 years has demonstrated that this prior belief was incorrect and that a dynamic warm-up, or dynamic stretching, is necessary in both preventing injury as well as improving performance.

The Benefits of Active Warm-Ups

Research has found that while static stretching can provide recovery benefits when performed at the end of a workout, it can hamper performance if performed at the beginning. That’s because it relaxes muscles, sapping strength, while reducing blood flow and decreasing central nervous system activity.

Active warm-up exercises — especially those that involve dynamic stretching — have the opposite effect, boosting blood flow, activating the central nervous system, and enhancing strength, power, and range of motion. As a result, they offer a host of both immediate and long term benefits.

What is static stretching?

Static stretching is probably the most common type of stretching. With static stretching, you stretch a muscle or group of muscles by holding the stretch for a period of time. The stretch is usually held for 15-60 seconds. This is then repeated 2–4 times.

Static stretching seems to be subject to conflicting opinion. Michael Boyle states in his book New Functional Training for Sports that static stretching has gone from being the best way to warm up to being something no-one should ever do again. Research in the 1980’s found that static stretching before exercise could decrease muscle power. Some sports such as football (soccer) are against static stretching because of the research supporting this. However, other research suggests that static stretching has been found to effectively increase flexibility and range of motion (RoM).

Some research has suggested the use of static stretching is more appropriate for the cool down.

What is dynamic stretching?

Dynamic stretching is a more functionally oriented stretch. Sport specific movements are used to move the limbs through greater RoM. It involves whole body movements and actively moving a joint passed its RoM without holding the movement at its endpoint. This is usually repeated around 10-12 times.

Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching, it has gained popularity with athletes, coaches and trainers. Research has shown that dynamic stretching is effective for increasing flexibility, maximal muscle strength, sprint and vertical jump performance. However, other studies show that dynamic stretching has no effect on strength and performance.

6 Quick Warm-up Exercises Everyone Should Do

Although a sport-specific warm-up is always preferable, the following dynamic stretching circuit encompassing a broad range of movements can help prepare your body for just about any athletic endeavor. Perform each move for one minute prior to working out or competing.

Shoulder Circle

  • Stand tall with your shoulders relaxed and your arms by your sides.

  • Slowly roll your shoulders in a circle (forward, up, back, down) for 30 seconds.

  • Repeat in the opposite direction.

Trunk Rotation

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.

  • Keeping your back straight (not arched), raise your arms straight out to your sides, and bend at the elbows.

  • Keeping your knees bent, pivot on the ball of your right foot as you rotate your torso to the left and invert the motion to the right.

Standing Hip Circle

  • Stand on one leg and raise the opposite knee to 90 degrees (your thigh should be parallel to the ground).

  • Keeping your knee raised, open your hip, making wide circles with your leg. Continue for 30 seconds.

  • Switch legs and repeat.

Leg Swing

  • Stand tall with your feet together and your arms out to your sides or gripping a stable surface for balance.

  • Shift your weight to your left leg and raise your right leg out to your side.

  • Swing your right leg parallel with your shoulders back and forth in front of your left leg. Continue for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

 Lunge

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips.

  • Keeping your chest up, shoulders back, core braced, and back flat, take a large step forward with your right foot. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and your rear knee is bent 90 degrees. (It should hover a couple of inches above the ground.)

  • Pause, and then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. Repeat, this time stepping forward with your left foot. Continue alternating legs.

Half Squat

  • Stand tall with your arms by your sides and your feet hip- to shoulder-width apart.

  • Keeping your back flat and core braced, raise your arms straight out in front of you as you push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground.

  • Pause, and then push yourself back up to the starting position.



Chris Walker