Dynamic stretching is an integral part of any runner’s warm-up and can help you avoid injury and boost performance. Discover what dynamic stretching is, how it compares to static stretching, the six advantages of dynamic stretching and several dynamic stretch ideas to get you started.

What Is Dynamic Stretching?

Dynamic stretches involve the joints through a full range of motion. All dynamic stretches incorporate some kind of movement, whether it’s swinging your arms or rotating your hips. Dynamic stretches contrast with static stretches, where you hold the pose for a set length of time.

Dynamic stretches are usually used to warm up, while static stretches are used to cool down or build stamina (such as during yoga). Dynamic stretching is a perfect addition to your running warm-up routine, as it helps get your blood flowing and loosens up your muscles. It’s also a great warmup before any other type of exercise, though you’ll likely want to vary up the stretching movement based on what type of workout you want to do. For example, before a running workout, you’ll want to focus your dynamic stretches mostly on the legs.

In some cases, dynamic cases may be functional and reflect the movement of your upcoming workout — think of how swimmers often rotate their arms before getting in the pool. In other cases, the movements aren’t connected to a specific workout, but they’ll help warm up your body nonetheless.

Advantages of Dynamic Stretching

Now that you know what dynamic stretching is, you may be wondering what specific benefits it provides. Here are six benefits that dynamic stretching offers:

It warms up your muscles.

Many people believe that they should stretch as part of their workout warmup routine, and they’re right. However, static stretching isn’t appropriate before a workout—only after. While it will lengthen your muscles, the lack of movement in static stretching will leave you cold and ill-prepared to jump into a tough workout. The movement of dynamic stretching gets your muscles warmed up and helps you ease into the workout.

It gets your blood pumping.

You need to prepare your cardiovascular system as well as your muscles for a workout. It’s harder on your heart to ramp up the number of beats per minute over a short period of time than a long one. This is especially true if you work a desk job or are otherwise sedentary except for your running workouts. Increasing circulation will also deliver oxygen and other nutrients to your body more quickly, which helps your body feel more energized and tire more slowly.

It reduces your chances of injury.

Jumping straight into your workout seems like an efficient idea, right until you pull a muscle or twist a joint because you didn’t warm up properly. Thanks to other factors on this list—chiefly limbering up your muscles and boosting your circulation—dynamic stretching reduces your chances of hurting yourself during a run. Of course, dynamic stretching is no replacement for extra support like athletic braces or tape, so if your joints need a little extra help, definitely give it to them.

It can shorten your recovery time.

Dynamic stretching doesn’t only reduce your chances of serious injury, it also quickens your recovery time and helps with general post-run soreness. This is because warmed up muscles are more limber and move more easily, which helps reduce stiffness during and after the run itself. The increased circulation caused by dynamic stretching, and the increased oxygen and nutrients that come with it, also help sore muscles repair themselves after a run. 

If you’re looking to give your circulation another boost, wearing athletic compression socks is also a great addition to your running workout.

It helps you prepare mentally.

Preparing for a workout is both a physical and mental process. You can get your body ready, but if your head isn’t in the game, you’ll probably have a less-than-stellar workout regardless of how you feel physically. Dynamic stretching gives you a transition time to mentally shake off whatever you’ve been stewing over and to get focused on the great run you’re about to have. It also gives you a chance to reconnect with your body and think about your workout goals for the day.

It increases your performance.

By combining all the other factors on this list, dynamic stretching helps you run farther and faster. After all, you can perform better when your muscles are warm, your heart is pumping, you’re not sore from your last workout and you’re in the right headspace. If you’ve been in a workout funk lately, adding some dynamic stretching to your warmup might be just the ticket.

Examples of Dynamic Stretches

If you’ve done dynamic stretching before, you might not know what it looks like. Here are some example stretches that you should consider incorporating into your routine:

  • Hip circles: Stand on one leg, holding the other leg out at an angle; grab a counter or chair for support if necessary. Rotate your legs in circles, then switch directions. Repeat on the other side.
  • Arm circles: Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart and hold your arms out straight at shoulder height. Rotate your arms in circles, then switch directions. Repeat on the other side.
  • Leg pendulum: Stand on one leg, holding the other leg out in front of you; grab a counter or chair for support if necessary. Swing your leg forward and backward, then repeat on the other side.
  • Walking lunge twists: With your hands on your hips, lunge out with one leg and twist your torso toward your lead leg. Bring your back leg forward, then lunge and twist on the other side. Repeat.

Whenever you’re tempted to skip your dynamic stretches before a workout, keep these six benefits in mind. From limbering up your muscles to boosting your circulation, dynamic stretching really makes a difference for running workouts.