A few weeks ago we covered why you shouldn’t be stretching before running. Of course we’re talking about static stretching, the “touch your toes and hold” type of stretch. What you should be doing though is a dynamic full body stretch to warm up your body before a long run or other athletic performance. But, what is it?
“Dynamic” in this case means you’re moving while you’re stretching; instead of holding a stretch for ten seconds an athlete is using momentum and focusing on form to engage and warm up the muscles and joints.
Dynamic stretching has been around a while, but the concept didn’t begin gaining popularity until about ten years ago. These days, dynamic stretching is an ideal warm up routine for several different reasons.
Because constant movement is required for this routine the core body temperature is maintained, blood flow increases to the muscles and muscle temperature is maintained or raised. Dynamic stretching helps elongate muscles, prepares the body for movement, enhances kinesthetic awareness, increases balance, improves mobility, coordination and range of motion, strength and flexibility and athletic potential while decreasing the chance of injury.
Butt kicks are great for stretching out your quads, knee joints and calves and warming up your legs for your run. While standing tall, step forward with an exaggerated backswing so your heel comes up and touches your glute (literally kicking your butt). For more of a challenge, try it while jogging.
High kicks help warm up the hamstrings and improve range of motion. These can be done while walking, alternating legs as you go, or stationary, focusing on one side at a time. If starting with the right leg, extend your left arm straight in front of you. Kick your leg up while keeping both your leg and arm straight, and touch your toes to your palm. The purpose is to progressively kick higher while staying under control.
This exercise mimics the top of a running stride as you bring your knee toward your chest before bringing the foot toward the ground. It targets your glutes, hip flexors and hip adductors. Just like high kicks, you can alternate legs while stationary or do it while walking forward. Focus on bringing your knee cap into your chest by hugging your shin, and also coming to your tip toes on your standing leg to give yourself more leverage.
Walking lunges helps activate the legs, hip flexors and glutes, and as the name implies, incorporates a lunge while walking forward. Take a long stride forward, keeping the front knee over or just behind your toes and lower your body by dropping your back knee toward the ground. Be sure to maintain an upright posture, keep your abdominal muscles tight and don’t let your knee lunge over your toes.
A little more on the advanced side, jumping lunges are a great plyometric exercise for warming up the entire lower body. This exercise also requires balance to activate stabilizer muscles in the legs and hips. You can have your hands on your hips, at your sides or behind your head. Start with one foot extended forward and one foot behind and drop into a half lunge then jump into the air using explosive movement. While in the air, switch your legs so that your front leg is now behind you and your back leg in front and repeat. Continue to alternate legs while maintaining balance and control.