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WELLNESS: 'Dynamic stretching' can help you warm up better

What is dynamic stretching? It's a type of stretching where you are moving your body actively and rhythmically through a range of motion.

What is dynamic stretching? It's a type of stretching where you are moving your body actively and rhythmically through a range of motion. This is in contrast to static stretching, where you are holding a specific muscle in a stretched position, usually to a point of tension, for a certain length of time.

In the past, static stretching is what everyone did to "warm-up" before exercising. Over the past few years, dynamic stretching has become the norm for most athletes.

Why? Research has shown that people who perform dynamic stretching prior to their sport or activity demonstrated more power. In other words, they went faster, jumped higher or were stronger.

And believe it or not, research has shown that static stretching seems to have a negative effect on these power performance measures.

Let's look at some of the possible reasons why.

The purpose of a warm-up prior to activity is to help prepare the body to move. Static stretching does not quite do this. In fact, it only increases the length of the muscle you are stretching.

When we begin an activity, our muscles need a sudden increase of oxygen. Dynamic stretching helps make this happen. The constant motion of your body increases blood flow to your muscles, causes your core body temperature to rise and your muscle length to increase.

Essentially, with dynamic stretching, you are better preparing your muscles and joints for activity. This is because dynamic stretching usually involves having your body perform the motions you will likely repeat in your activity. It is why many trainers believe dynamic stretching may decrease the risk of injuries, which is one of the main reasons we all tend to stretch and warm up before any activity.

Dynamic stretching is not hard to incorporate into your exercise routine. In fact, it usually flows nicely into your desired activity. Since we are in the midst of winter, let's look at a simple warm-up program for someone who is going cross-country skiing:

Front to back kicks: While standing on one leg, swing the other leg forward and then backward like a pendulum. Repeat on the other side. This stretches your hamstrings, hip flexors and some of your quadriceps muscles.

Side kicks: While standing on one leg, swing the other leg one at a time side to side like a pendulum. This stretches your abductors (IT Band) and groin muscles.

Heel and toe walk: Walk on your heels and then walk on your tippy toes. This stretches your shin muscles and your calf muscles.

Walking lunges: Take a step forward with one leg and then squat. Alternate sides. This stretches all your major leg and buttock muscles

Arm swings: Swing your arms back and forth like you would in cross country skiing. This stretches your shoulder and chest muscles.

Light jog: Lightly jog in a spot. This warms up all the muscles in your body, including your heart.

Scissoring jumping jacks: Perform split jumps as you swing your arms back and forth as in cross-country skiing. This exercise mimics skiing.

Do each stretch for about 30 seconds to one minute each and repeat one to two times. You are now ready to go cross-country skiing.

In conclusion, dynamic stretching may help some performance measures that involve power, speed and strength as well as decreasing one's chance of injury. This does not mean there is no place for static stretching or that no one does it anymore - it still has its place.

I often tell my patients to perform their static stretches after their activity as part of their cool down. Both dynamic and static stretching are important components of an exercise program or activity. Research tells us that it's the timing of when you choose to do it that is the key to getting the most of each type of stretch.

- article by Karen Chow-Lennstrom of MaxFit Movement Institute (