While treating patients in our clinic, we often times need to help them increase their muscle flexibility in order to overcome pain from an injury. Back when I was in school and taking part in clinical experiences, I was taught to stretch patients or teach them exercises using static and not dynamic stretching. This means I would or the patient would hold a muscle stretch for a period of time, typically 20 to 30 seconds, before relaxing. This was repeated a few times in order to gain muscle length and flexibility.
Dynamic stretching exercises are different than static stretches because they involved continuous movement throughout the exercise in order to gain muscle flexibility. Hence, the use of the word dynamic to describe them. Occasionally, we still use static stretching techniques in our physical therapy clinic, but we have found “dynamic” stretching exercises to be more effective for patients for reasons listed below:
1. Dynamic stretching exercises are more effective in “warming” up a muscle and promoting blood flow to the region. This allows the muscle to feel more “loose” as compared to when stretching the same muscle statically. This in turn prevents injury to “cold” muscles that have not been stretched prior to treatment or exercise, as can happen when people try to stretch using a static stretch technique.
For example:Try stretching your hamstrings statically by standing on one leg and placing the stretch leg on a chair seat while leaning forward. The muscle feels tight, even after you have stretched for 20 to 30 seconds. Now try standing up straight and swing one leg forward and back with your knee straight for 20 to 30 repetitions. This is a dynamic stretch for the hamstrings that we call Front to Back Leg Swings. What felt better as a stretch? Which stretch was more effective for increasing flexibility? Which was easier to do? My bet is you chose the dynamic stretch.
2. Dynamic stretching allows for increased flexibility for more than one muscle group. Take the hamstring sample again. With a static stretch, you only feel the hamstring stretching. With the dynamic Front to Back Leg Swings stretch, you involve movement of more than just the hamstring muscle. You also involve the gluteal muscles, low back muscles, along with the hip flexors and quads when you move your leg backwards during the exercise. Because our movement patterns for any activity we do typically involve more than one muscle group, the dynamic stretch is more functional and effective in respect to our movement patterns.
3. Dynamic stretches are generally more comfortable to do than static stretches because the muscle is not held in a stretch position for a long period of time. Think about when you try stretching a muscle too far, it can hurt. That is why even a regular static stretch is not the most comfortable thing for people, and typically why we tend to avoid doing them. With a dynamic stretch, the muscle is lengthened only for a very short period of time, and then released. This allows the muscle to more effectively release, helping you to gain more movement range with each repetition.
4. Dynamic stretching physical therapy exercises are also effective in promoting strength and stability, two additional key components to proper muscle function. Take the leg whip stretch again. While stretching the motion leg, the muscles in the opposite leg are required to be active in order to maintain balance. The muscles are also being strengthened eccentrically, meaning the muscle is gaining a greater ability to lengthen while decelerating movement against gravity. For someone who carries a lot of upper body weight, this type of strength is extremely important in preventing injury. It is also another example why dynamic stretches are more functional than static stretches.
5. Overall as shown above, dynamic stretching exercises give you more bang for your buck in usually less time. We have designed dynamic warm-up routines that improve total body flexibility in 10 minutes versus doing 4 or 5 static stretches for only 4 to 5 muscles over the same period of time. Because dynamic exercises also promote blood flow, energy use, and muscle strengthening, you also feel like you have done a bit of a workout after performing them.
If you are interested in learning a dynamic stretching routine, contact a Sports Physical Therapist in your area or a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at your local fitness center. Either should be able to provide you with instruction in dynamic warm-up exercises.
About the Author: Steve Messineo holds a doctorate in physical therapy and owns two businesses in Shrewsbury, MA: All-Access Physical Therapy and the All-Access Fitness Academy. Both businesses were created with the idea that there is a need for people transitioning from physical therapy care to long term health and wellness programs, to get the guidance and instruction they need in order to be successful doing so, and to meet their fitness goals.
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