The question is how best to warm up for dynamic sports and for the challenging nature of agility training? What I’ve been doing until now is some static stretches for the ham strings, calf muscles and groin, and a jog around the playing field to warm up my muscles and joints. Turns out that static stretching may not be the best thing to be doing before engaging in a vigorous activity. Dynamic flexibility exercises may be better.
I came across dynamic flexibility exercises while researching a blog post on agility training for tennis. Here’s what the authors of “Development of Speed, Agility and Quickness for Tennis Athletes” (1) had to say:
Dynamic flexibility refers to active range of motion within a full range of motion in a joint or joints.
The authors continue:
It has several benefits such as improved coordination, balance, proprioception and movement speed.
Sounded good, so I did a bit more digging. Paul Roetert, PhD writes in “Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training in Tennis” (2):
Dynamic Flexibility Training – A series of activities or exercises designed to increase body temperature and heart rate while stretching muscles through normal movement patterns.
Sounding even better. Roetert goes on to explain that dynamic flexibility exercises differ from static flexibility exercises such that with static exercises one is typically “stretching a muscle or muscle group until [the athlete] feels a slight tension and then holding that position for 15-30 seconds” (2).
Roetert provides a great list of the benefits of dynamic flexibility exercises which I’m just going to paste in here:
- The gradual and progressive warming of the body’s temperature and increase in heart rate.
- A gradual increase in the elasticity of muscles and tendons by actively stretching the muscle, using movement.
- The incorporation of balance, coordination and strength components.
- The incorporation of movement techniques that might otherwise require a specialized practice session.
- Developing coordination and readying the player mentally by focusing on specific movement patterns and body control.
- Using muscles in “patterns” that players might find themselves in during a match.
Turns out there are dozens of different kinds of dynamic flexibility exercises. These are really just simple warm up routines that prepare the joints and muscles for the main event. Here are some examples of such exercises taken from “Dynamic Flexibility Part 1: What is it?” (3) :
Lunge - Step forward with one leg keeping your upper body straight and diving your knee into the ground. There should be about 2 and a half feet between your feet and you should feel the burn in your hamstrings and quads.
Side Bend – Bend at the waist from one side to the other keeping your torso straight and using only your obliques to pull you up. Best when done with an exercise ball for added mobility.
Frankenstein Walk - Just as they sound, put your arms straight out and kick your toes up to your hands as far as you can trying not to bend at the knee. This gets your hip more flexible and works your legs at the same time.
High Knees – While trying to run kick your heels up to your butt or around your waistline if you can while pumping the opposite arm. Great mobility enhancer for all the joints in your lower body. These are not about distance so do not try and cover the 15-20 yards quickly.
Jumping Jacks – Ah how we all love this arcane exercise. Try some variation to keep things new by having your arms in front of you instead of above or crossing your legs instead of just spreading them. Anything you can think of.
Back Pedaling – Run backwards making sure you are not dragging your heels or toes on the ground. Great for your calves and the muscle that wraps in front of your shins.
Scorpion – Lie face down on the ground with arms extended to your sides, palms facing down, so your body forms a mock T shape. Keeping this facedown position and keeping your shoulders flat on the ground, bring your left heel and swing it back towards your right hand. Repeat for the other leg.
High Knee Skipping – Just as we did when we were little go and skip! Only difference is with each skip try and bring your knee up as high as you can exploding of your toes with each skip.
Side Lunges - Get in a low athletic position, like a wide squat almost. Step to the side with one leg maintaining the same athletic position and not getting any taller. Much like I envision a ninja looks like. Yes you are the NINJA! Now step together with the other leg. Switch sides and repeat for the distance. These mega burn the glute and quads!
Of course a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a link to a great video that demonstrates a dynamic flexibility warm up: Dynamic Stretches for Runners.
Lastly, what about static stretching? It’s purpose, according to Roetert, is to keep muscles from tightening up, keep them working through their proper range of motion. There is a time for static stretching but apparently it is NOT right before your game or workout. Get this: Research has shown that static stretching can lead to a decrease in muscle strength that can last up to 2 hours!
I plan on trying out some dynamic flexibility exercises before my agility training sessions. I’ll let you know in a future blog post which ones I like. Until then…
References for this Post:
- Parsons, Lori S. and Jones, Margaret T., Development of Speed, Agility and Quickness for Tennis Athletes, Strength and Conditioning, June 1998, pp.14-19.
- Roetert, Paul E., PhD, Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training in Tennis, 14th ITF Worldwide Coaches Workshop, Turkey, 2005
- Alex, Dynamic Flexibility Part 1: What is it?, AITank: Fitness Explained, Blog Post, December 8, 2009.