The Dynamic Warm-Up

By Dave Van Zandt, CSCS, CEAS, Cert FCE

Warm-ups are generally designed to prevent injury and prepare the cardio-respiratory and musculoskeletal systems to meet the demands of exercise. They also mentally prepare individuals for activities they are about to perform. Prior to exercising, most people participate in a brief warm-up/stretching program to prepare the body for activity. The best way to prepare for more strenuous exercise is to perform specific warm-up exercises because they provide a rehearsal of the activity and increase body temperature.

Dynamic warm-ups consist of functional-based exercises that use sport-specific movements to prepare the body for activity. They can be used to teach or emphasize sport-specific movements athletes need during practice and competition and are best used before practice or competition instead of during the cool down. Performing a dynamic warm-up before participating in an athletic activity will help prevent injuries like strained muscles or sprained ligaments.

Dynamic flexibility, the act of quickly moving a joint through its range of motion with little resistance, improves flexibility, coordination, balance, proprioception, elasticity of the muscles and ligaments, increases core body and deep muscle temperatures, elongates active muscles, decreases the inhibition of the antagonist muscles and stimulates the nervous system and therefore helps decrease the chance of injury. Conversely, static stretching involves passively stretching a giving muscle by placing it in a maximal position of stretch and holding it for an extended time, usually 10 seconds. The disadvantage of static stretching is that it may only improve flexibility and does little to elevate core body temperature. Also people rarely push with both hands into a fixed object during competition or activity.

Dynamic flexibility programs must incorporate the whole body and mimic movements performed for each individual sport. The dynamic flexibility warm-up should mirror the day’s training objective or competition. Whether the training focus is predominantly linear, lateral or multidirectional, the dynamic warm-up should mimic that goal. To develop a dynamic flexibility program appropriate for your sport, analyze the movements necessary and be creative. An effective dynamic stretching warm-up can be accomplished in 10-15 minutes once you are familiar with exercises.

The movements should be performed in a continuous and “down and back” fashion over 10-20 yards and be of low to moderate intensity, less than 75 percent of maximum heart rate, activities. These activities may include exercises such as butt kicks, high knee skips, carioca and strides in the pre-practice or pre-game warm-up.

Dynamic Flexibility Exercise

Some dynamic flexibility examples are: walking on toes for a length of 10 yards both forward and backward and to incorporate the shin into the stretch, walking on heels. Next, combine the two stretches in a heel-to-toe walk. This exercise can be done first walking and later skipping.

Movement-based stretches for the quadriceps, hamstrings and adductor muscles can be incorporated into the warm-up through the use of the heel-to-butt run, lunge walk, twisting lunge walk, angled lunge walk, reverse lunge walk, walking side lunge, walking knee tuck/lift the foot, walking leg swing to opposite hand and walking knee over hurdle exercises.

A sumo groin stretch is recommended for sports such as football and basketball, which require sudden stopping and change of direction. This stretch may be done by pointing your feet outward and spreading them just beyond shoulder width. Then drop your hips toward the ground.

Arm circles forward and backward are effective beginning dynamic flexibility stretches for the shoulders and upper back. Additionally, athletes can skip in a forward or backward direction while doing forward or backward arm circles. An example of an advanced warm-up exercise is an opposite-hand-to opposite toe hamstring stretch which may done while walking.

Because dynamic flexibility exercises require balance and coordination, many people experience muscle soreness for a period of time following dynamic flexibility exercises.