Dynamic Stretching for Runners

The image of stretching before a run is nearly as commonplace as the run itself, but this has not spared that stretch from controversy. Dynamic Stretching is a concept that has arisen as a response to this controversy, and as an exercise alternative to conventional or “Static” Stretching.

As discussed in the Stretching Exercise Guide, the crucial element in this form of stretch is that you shouldn’t hold your position at the full extent of motion, but should keep the joint moving – slowly – at all times. Begin, as always, from the neutral position of whatever joint you’re stretching. Then move your arm or leg to the extent of its range. Slowly return to neutral position using eccentric contraction. To illustrate this last point using a common bicep curl, eccentric contraction is what occurs as you are moving the dumbbell away from your torso. Its opposite, “concentric contraction,” is what occurs as you pull it up toward your shoulder. When you do this, the lengthening muscle naturally relaxes.

As might be expected, Dynamic Stretcing has its advantages and disadvantages relative to Static Stretching. An obvious advantage to Dynamic Stretching is that because of its continuous motion, it serves as a warm-up as well as a stretch. That much said, evidence suggests that, considered strictly as a stretch, Static Stretching does remain superior, with Bandy and Briggler finding a 7.1% edge to Static over Dynamic Stretching in enhancing range of motion. A more recent study (2009) in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders confirmed these findings.

But Dynamic Stretching offers demonstrable benefits as well, especially in terms of strength and sports performance. For instance, a study by Parsons, Maxwell, Elniff, Jacka, and Heerschee has demonstrated that compared to Static Stretching, Dynamic Stretching gives greater power, neuromuscular activation, endurance, balance, and coordination. It yields better gains in speed of contraction and even mental preparedness. Dynamic Stretching appears to work like a mini-weightlifting blast to augment your run. The good news is the obvious complementarity between these stretching techniques.

Examples of Dynamic Strething include Front Leg Swings, which stretch your hip flexors and hamstrings; Side Leg Swings, to stretch open your hips themselves; Lunge Exchanges, which stretch your hip flexors and glutes; Donkey Kicks, which stimulate circulation in your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes; the Fire Hydrant and Eagles, different stretches which both stimulate circulation in the hips; Plank Marches, to wake up your shoulder muscles as well as your core; and Plank-to-Knee Elbow Touches, to warm the same areas and hip flexors as well. Ten reps is standard, but if you feel you need more reps, go with your best judgment. All concur: The only mistake is not to stretch at all.

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