Stretching is crucial before going for a run. But do you know about the different types of stretching and which types are more beneficial than others?
It’s crucial as a runner that you understand the differences between dynamic stretches vs static stretches. It can be the difference between a quick recovery… or unwelcome injury.
A good stretch before you head out on your run can help warm your muscles, raise your body temperature, and allow the joints to move fluidly. How you stretch has a significant impact on your body, and although the choice of stretching type is personal, you could risk injury if not performed correctly.
Let’s break down the different types of stretching, focusing on why dynamic stretching is better for runners who want to increase their pace and performance. Then we’ll run through the 8 best dynamic stretches for runners.
- Static Stretching Vs. Dynamic Stretching: The Ins and Outs
- Why Static Stretching is Bad for Runners
- Dynamic Stretching: The Best Stretch for Runners
- Choosing Your Dynamic Stretches
- 8 Best Dynamic Stretches for Runners
- Our Verdict on Dynamic Stretches For Runners
Static Stretching Vs. Dynamic Stretching: The Ins and Outs
Before we compare the different types of stretching and analyze which have the most benefits, it is important to know the two most popular types of stretching.
Static stretching involves holding a single position while sitting, standing, or lying down. Although the amount of time may differ according to your fitness level, the average time holding one position is around 45 seconds. The range of static stretching can be something as simple as bending over and touching your toes or as complex as maintaining complicated poses.
Static stretches are best used as part of your warm down.
Dynamic stretches involve continuous movement rather than holding a single position for a given time. This type of stretching is completed by performing repetitions. They are a great way to ensure you fully prepare your body before a run.
Dynamic stretching can be accomplished through lunges, leg swings, twists, and more.
A common mistake many runners make is starting with static stretches before running.
While any stretching is good before a workout, the right type can warm up your muscles correctly, reducing the risk of injury. To fully grasp the benefits you can gain from dynamic stretching, it is necessary to highlight the negative aspects of static stretching.
Why Static Stretching is Bad for Runners
Static stretching is not all it is cracked up to be. Stretching is good, but holding the same position for an extended period can result in the muscle switching off, leading to muscle damage and injury.
According to the Canadian Science Publishing 2015 paper on Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, holding one position for 60 seconds results in a 4.6% reduction in muscle force. This statistic might not seem like a big deal, but even the smallest percentage of reduced force can impact a runner’s pace and performance.
Static stretching can also lead to the following:
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Elevated creatine kinase levels in the body (this protein indicates muscle damage)
- Increased potential for injury
- Lower muscle tone
The science behind our reasoning is clear. Static stretching leads to an elevated creatine kinase level which can lead to muscle tearing and damage in the major muscle groups. Injuries like these are fairly common for runners, more so in those who perform static stretching as part of their warm-up routine.
Dynamic Stretching: The Best Stretch for Runners
Dynamic stretching has many benefits for runners and should be the number one choice for those who wish to warm up properly before a run. With this type of stretching, the body constantly moves, allowing the muscles and joints to loosen up in preparation for the activity.
Proper stretching can help reduce the risk of injury. Dynamic stretching accomplishes this feat by preparing the muscles for your run by avoiding any undue strain during the workout. Because muscles work in pairs, dynamic stretching adequately prepares the all-important glutes, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors for a run.
Using gentle, controlled movements can increase your range of motion.
Here are a few more benefits of dynamic stretching:
- Increase in blood and oxygen to the muscles
- Raising core temperature that helps prevent overheating and dehydration
- Allows joints to move more smoothly while warming up
- Perfect warm-up even for the most vigorous workout
- Ability to be incorporated into your post-run recovery session
With benefits like these, is there any need to explore other types of stretching? We don’t think so, and even Olympians agree!
Deena Kastor, a three-time Olympic champion and American distance-running record breaker, believes in the benefits of dynamic stretching. Kastor claims, “Dynamic flexibility has the dual purpose of making you limber while activating major muscle groups. This is great to wake up and limber your body.”
There you have it, folks, excellent advice from an athlete that has competed in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympic Games.
The faster you plan to run, the more important it is to focus on dynamic stretches rather than static stretches. That’s why dynamic stretches are particularly important for activating the muscles required for sprinting.
Choosing Your Dynamic Stretches
Sure, any stretching is better than none at all. But choosing the best stretch for your pre-run warm-up session is crucial to improve the range of motion of your joints and muscles, which ensures that each is sufficiently limber and warmed up.
Here’s what to look at before you settle on a dynamic stretch warm-up routine:
- Current fitness levels
- Fitness goals
- Distance you’ll be running
- Type of running (long-distance, tempo, or sprinting)
- Duration you intend to dedicate to a warm-up session
Your current fitness level speaks volumes about the dynamic stretches you should perform before you head out on your run. Those fairly new to running should start slow, focusing on simplified dynamic stretches like lunges, torso twists, and leg swings.
More advanced, dare we say, fitter runners will choose fire hydrants, plank marches, and trickier dynamic stretching exercises to prepare their bodies and muscles.
Whether you run one mile or 10, a warm-up is a warm-up and should be done before EVERY RUN, regardless of the distance. Improper preparation is one the quickest ways to risk severe injury that will require an extended time devoted to recovery.
Long-distance runners (or joggers) and sprinters alike benefit from dynamic stretching. Some dynamic stretching exercises, like plank-to-knee marches, include a cardio element to the warm-up, making it a versatile stretch for any running type.
For sprinters, dynamic stretching helps work the muscles in pairs, ensuring peak performance and speed while running.
Dynamic stretches are considerably less time-consuming than static stretches and consist of an average of 10 repetitions per side. This preliminary warm-up is considered an adequate amount of time to stretch those quads and hamstrings.
8 Best Dynamic Stretches for Runners
There is a range of dynamic stretches to suit any fitness level. It is, however, worth noting that even the simplest dynamic stretching exercises have a big impact on the flexibility and elasticity of the muscles.
Let’s look at the eight best dynamic stretching exercises you should incorporate into your warm-up session for maximum impact with minimal effort.
1. Torso Twists
A torso twist is a fairly simple stretch exercise but greatly impacts warming up and preparing the core muscles and hip flexors for a run.
To execute this stretch, stand with your back straight, legs shoulder width apart, and arms at a 90-degree angle at your side. Gently twist your body to one side, reaching a comfortable position, similar to the popular dance move for the song “Let’s Twist Again.”
This movement is considered one repetition. Repeat this 10 times, then twist your torso in the opposite direction.
A lunge is a simple exercise that can be adapted for static and dynamic stretches. Lunges are ideal for warming up the hips and core muscles and helping loosen tight muscles. To execute a lunge:
- Stand with your back straight, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Place one foot a comfortable distance in front of you while allowing the other foot to remain stationary.
- Bend your extended leg at a 90-degree angle while maintaining the other leg in a straight line.
- Do not hold this position; bring forward the back leg to resemble the standing position from Step #1 to complete one repetition.
Complete 10 repetitions of this stretch before switching to the other leg. If you need to work on your balance, you might find it easier to hold onto a table or chair. Once you have grown accustomed to this dynamic stretch, you may move on by placing your hands on your hips.
3. Leg Swings
Leg swings are great for increasing the flexibility of your hamstrings and hip flexors.
Holding onto a table for support, swing your right leg in front of you until you have reached your flexibility limitations. As you bring your leg back down, allow the momentum to extend your leg behind you. When you have returned your leg to a standing position, that will count as one repetition. Repeat this move for 10 reps and then switch to the other leg.
4. Side Leg Swings
Side leg swings are a variation of the exercise described in Dynamic Stretch #3. Rather than moving your legs from front to back, this dynamic stretch calls to extend your legs from side to side.
This exercise begins with swinging your leg outward until you have reached the limit to its extension. Rather than allowing the momentum to carry your leg, this exercise calls for you to return to the starting position.
Complete this maneuver for 10 repetitions and then switch legs. Side leg swings help open the hips and activate those all-important hip flexors.
5. Donkey Kicks
Have you ever seen a donkey swing its legs to kick? This maneuver is needed to warm up your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Start by lowering yourself onto your hands and knees (similar to a planking position). Bend one leg by tucking it close to your chest, nearly touching your chin.
Once you have reached this position, extend your leg straight behind you by kicking it back. Do not hold the pose; rather, bring your knee back to the ground to its starting position. Repeat for 10 repetitions and switch to the other leg for another 10 repetitions.
6. Fire Hydrants
Fire hydrants are similar to the exercises that military personnel perform in basic training. They should be carried out in the plank position – hands and knees on the floor with your back straight. Keeping your leg bent at the knee, swing it outwards until it is parallel to the ground.
Bring the bent leg back to the starting position without letting the knee touch or rest on the floor, and repeat 10 times. Switch to the opposite leg and repeat. Fire hydrants are ideal for warming up and activating the hip muscles.
7. Plank Marches
Once again, begin this stretch in the plank position. Starting with your left hand, raise the hand slowly and place it down on the ground. Repeat 10 times per hand. Plank marches are simple dynamic stretch exercises that warm your core muscles and shoulders.
8. Plank-to-Knee Marches
The final dynamic stretch we will be looking at is a variation of the traditional plank march that works the legs rather than the arms. In the planking position, bring your leg forward as you try to touch your elbow with your knee. Gently move your leg back into the starting position to complete the rep. Repeat for 10 repetitions and then start with the opposite leg.
Plank-to-knee marches are ideal for core muscle, shoulders, and hip flexor warm-up.
Dynamic stretches need not be high-intensity and can be carried out by a beginner runner. Combine a few of the best dynamic stretches to create a personalized warm-up routine and adapt a creative twist to those we have detailed above. Remember to take a rest day to let your muscles rest and recover.
If you feel any pain while running, do not hesitate to take yourself to a doctor for an examination. An injury can occur among even the fittest runners, so don’t try and be brave if you suspect you are injured.
Our Verdict on Dynamic Stretches For Runners
Static stretches are not as effective as dynamic stretches and could cause more muscle damage.
If you are looking for a good warm-up exercise that will help improve the flexibility and elasticity of your muscles while preparing for a run, you should consider dynamic stretching.
Start slow, and choose the dynamic stretches that do not require much effort. Build your way up to the more tricky stretches as you increase the flexibility of your muscles. Try out the stretches we identified to be the best above, and prepare for your run correctly.