If a warm-up is to be called “complete”, it has to include both basic warm-up exercises and at least a short session of dynamic stretching. Why should we always remember about dynamic stretching? And what are the actual exercises we can perform to stretch dynamically?
Why is dynamic stretching necessary?
After the general part of running and jumping, which is to raise the heart rate and thus stimulate the blood circulation, the muscles and tendons should be properly stretched. Stretching is to extend the range of our body movement and prepare the muscle fibers, the tendons and the joints for physical effort.
Having stretched our body dynamically during warm-up, not only are we more immune to injuries, but we’re also more efficient during the proper part of our workout. The greater the amplitude of our movements, the fuller the range of the muscle work during exercise – and hence the greater the effectiveness of the workout.
How can we stretch dynamically?
There are plenty of dynamic stretching exercises, but here we want to present the very basic ones which everyone should be able to perform everywhere, within a few minutes. You probably know some, or all, of them already. Nonetheless, it’s good to organize them in an order just to be sure that you won’t omit any muscle group while stretching.
To make them even easier to remember, they all involve the motion in circles. We’ll start from the upper body, but you can also reverse the order and start from the lower body parts. The important thing is that in the end all the muscle groups are properly warmed-up.
1. Head circles
Start with your chin low, then go right, so that your right ear is close to the right shoulder, and further round leaning your head back so the chin goes high, and then the left ear close to the left shoulder, and the chin is again low. Do 5 circles in one direction and another 5 in the other to avoid feeling dizzy. This way you’re stretching your neck.
2. Shoulder circles
Keep your arms down along the torso for now and roll only your shoulders. You can roll with one shoulder at a time or both together. Do the rotations forward and then backward. Make sure your chest and upper back work along with the shoulders, since they are what you’re stretching now.
3. Arm circles
Now it’s time to involve the arms. You can start with your arms stretched horizontally to sides. Firstly, do small circles and gradually extend the range of motion so that finally the arms go close to your ears and hips. Again, do some circles forward and some backward. You can roll one arm at a time or both together. To make things more advanced and improve your coordination, you can roll the arms alternating (as the one arm is up the other is down, like when swimming the crawl), or in different directions (as one arm is going backward the other is going forward).
4. Forearm circles
To warm up your elbow joints and stretch the arm muscles you can roll your forearms. Again, start with your arms stretched horizontally to sides, but keep still the arm from the shoulder to the elbow, and perform the circles only with the forearms. Do some circles in one direction and some in the other.
5. Wrist circles
Shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists. That’s the last one from the arms’ stretching series. Last but not least. The wrists that aren’t warmed-up properly may be easily injured, since many exercises, like for instance push-ups or pull-ups, let alone lifting weights, involve massive effort for the wrist joints. You can rotate each wrist apart or clasp your hands together by locking your fingers loosely and whirl the wrists around.
6. Torso semi-circles
Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulders width apart, and your arms stretched horizontally to sides. Twist the torso left and right as far as you can. If you looked at yourself from above, you would see how the arms draw the semi-circles in the air.
7. Torso semi-circles in forward bend (windmill turns)
Stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulders width apart, and your arms stretched horizontally to sides and then bend forward, so there’s the right angle between the torso and the legs. Twist your torso left and right – as one arm goes up the other goes down drawing the semi-circle if you looked at yourself from up front. Lock the arms in shoulders – these are the torso twists, not the arm rotations.
8. Hips circles
Stand with your feet shoulders width apart, put your hands on the hips. Do the circles with your hips and remember to:
- keep your legs straight in knees
- keep your head still – it’s the hips not the head rotating
Do some circles in one direction and some in the other. This way you’re stretching your lower back and abdominals.
9. Bend leg circles
Lay on your back and lean your forearms against the floor. The left leg is lying straight on the floor, the left is bent in knee and doing the circles. Do some circles in one direction and some in the other. Next, do the same with the other leg.
10. Straight leg circles
The starting position is the same as in the previous one. The difference is the resting leg is bend in knee (the foot on the ground), and the leg doing the circles is straight in knee. Again, do some circles in both directions, and then alter the leg. You’ll feel how your hamstrings and inner tighs are stretching during this one.
11. Knee circles
Start in standing position and lean with the right hand against the wall. Lift the left knee and do some circles in the air. The foot is drawing the circles. Next, change the direction. Then lean with the left hand against the wall and do the circles with the right leg. Doing the knee circles on bend legs keeping both feet on the ground and the hands on the knees may be too much effort for the knee joints. We want to warm them up, not overstrain.
12. Ankle circles
Sit down with your legs straight and your hands leaning back against the floor. Do the circles with your feet in both directions to stretch the calves and warm up the ankles. The sprained ankle is one of the most common injuries. To avoid that, make sure your legs’ joints, muscles, and tendons are properly warmed-up and stretched before workout.
How long should it take?
And that’s how we can dynamically stretch ‘in circles’ before each workout within several minutes. Try to do each exercise for about 30 seconds, and the exercises involving one arm/leg at a time – for 30 seconds with one arm/leg, and 30 seconds for the other.
After the general warm-up and the dynamic stretching, you should feel really warmed-up and ready for the proper workout. Don’t be afraid to take some additional time for warm-up exercises if you need it. It’s a very important part of your session, so you should be as focused and thorough as possible. A decent warm-up is an inherent introduction to an efficient and safe workout.