You’re probably sick of hearing this by now—and we don’t blame you. Stretching is important; warming up is important. There’s no way around it.
Once we accept that stretching will help us become more limber, improve our balance, flexibility, and even relieve back pain, then it becomes a question of what stretches are best.
While there are hundreds of stretches out there, some are more useful than others. Especially if you’re warming up for some sports, weightlifting, or other intense activities.
The most useful are called “dynamic stretches.” They’re the opposite of static stretches, where you just hold a position for a period of time. Dynamic stretches must be performed much like an exercise, but they’ll open up your joints, loosen your muscles, and prepare you for injury prevention and new PRs.
While static stretching has its place and time, you should really be focusing on dynamic stretches in order to warm-up for anything involving sports or athletics, weightlifting, or any forms of cardiovascular exercise.
Warm-ups, and dynamic stretches, in particular, allow your body to slowly rev up its cardiovascular system. This increases your heart rate, pumping more blood into your muscles and leading to more power and gains.
Certain studies have also shown that warming up reduces the risks of injuries. On the other hand, static stretches may actually undercut performance.
A key element in this is moving your joints through a range of motion that mimics the activity you’re warming up for.
Of course, this isn’t necessary, but practicing the motions before you go in and exert yourself fully can do wonders not only for your range of motion in the exercise itself, but also in terms of preventing injury.
A good warm-up should consist of some light aerobic work. This will be best to get blood pumping into your muscles and your core temperature will also be raised. Put together, this will make your muscles more elastic which will allow for a greater range of motion, and therefore, more gains.
This doesn’t have to include the “dreadmill,” either. Anything from cycling, rowing, or jump roping can help you get to where you need to be. This should go for around 5 to 10 minutes.
Use a foam roller is also a good idea before beginning your workout or activity. Foam rolling is a way to work your soft tissues in a way that breaks up adhesions that develop over years. These often develop from constant strenuous movement, or even simply sitting in a chair at an uncomfortable angle for years.
What matters is that they get in the way of you performing at your peak. Therefore, doing something to mediate this issue can have cascading effects on your lifts, cardiovascular activity, or other athletics. This isn’t a necessarily comfortable or relaxing process, and it can lead to soreness afterward. But it will help in the long run and that’s what matters.
While foam rolling isn’t completely necessary before every workout, it is a good habit to get into. Once you’ve done the cardio and the rolling, it’s time to get into the dynamic stretching.
When it comes to preparing for a run, the leg swing is one of the best dynamic stretches you can do. It mimics a similar movement pattern to your legs running, and it’s extremely effective in getting blood to pump in this area.
For example, the movement acts almost like a pump, which helps to move fluid in and out of your joints. This movement also stimulates blood flow into the surrounding areas, which helps both flexibility in the joint and in the muscles surrounding it.
This will also stimulate the nervous system in the lower body, and specifically your legs. With a more stimulated nervous system, you’ll be able to more quickly engage muscles if you want to turn or run quicker.
To perform a leg swing you’ll want to either balance on one foot or find a wall or some other object to be able to hold onto for balance. Make sure that you have room on both sides to fit your swinging leg.
With one hand on your hip and the other hand balancing you, engage your abdominals and ensure that your back is perfectly straight, with chest up. Begin the movement by swinging the leg furthest from the wall like a pendulum—back and forth.
To start, you’ll want to just go slowly until you get warmed up. Once you get into the groove of things, increase the height and the tempo of your swinging leg. The objective here is to achieve the full range of motion in the hip. However, go only as high as your flexibility will allow you to.
Also, you don’t want to be swinging so far back that your hips start to rotate, or your back rounds. Repeat with the other leg once you’ve done one for several repetitions.
Lunges are a terrific movement to add to your workouts, whether you do them as a warm-up or as a workout. They build lower body strength, effectively engaging the quads, glutes, core, and also developing your balance.
Lunges specifically help to isolate your quads and hamstrings, but adding in the twist will help your glutes contract more as you engage your core. The twist will also challenge your balance more than other lunges. To get the full benefits, try mixing in side lunges with the conventional ones.
Begin with your feet at about shoulder-width apart. You can either hold a weight in front of you, with elbows bent at 90-degrees, or just do it with your bodyweight if you’re starting out. Taking your right foot, step it forward into the lunge position.
Your right knee should be directly over your right foot and bent at a 90-degree angle. Your left knee should be in line with your left foot behind you, also bent at 90-degrees. From the bottom of the movement, twist your upper body to one side, and then slowly back. Return your feet to the starting position and alternate the sides you twist towards each time.
The scorpion stretch not only sounds cool, but it also engages the lower back, increases hip mobility, and also develops lower back mobility. It’s one of the best dynamic stretches you can do, either as a warm-up before your workout, or to cool down after the workout.
You can even do it in between sets for optimal recovery. The hip flexors and the lower back are often ignored in many workouts and athletic activities, but strengthening and stretching these aspects of your body is essential for maintaining a strong core.
That’s what makes the scorpion stretch particularly useful—especially if you know you’re not putting enough attention in these areas. That also makes this stretch a great starting point for people who might have issues with mobility.
Begin this stretch by lying face down on the ground. Only your legs will be moving in this stretch, and the more of your torso is kept in contact with the ground, the better it’ll be for successfully performing this movement.
Placing your arms to either side, fully extended for support, slowly lift your left leg up. While you’re lifting, allow your hips to twist with the movement. At the top of the stretch, hold for a count to experience a full stretch. Lower your leg and repeat with the right leg.
This dynamic exercise is relatively common, at least when compared to something like the scorpion stretch. It places an emphasis on the upper body—primarily the chest, shoulders, arms, and upper back region.
This is commonly done in the gym, especially right before a chest workout. Done with the full range of motion, arm swings can both engage and stretch the chest muscles along with the deltoids. If you’re looking to do a lot of heavy pressing movements, this is the stretch to be doing.
Standing up straight, reach out with your arms fully extended in front of you. Then, swing your arms open and out, pulling back your shoulder blades as you feel a stretch in your pecs. When you’ve gone as far as you can in the stretch, return the arms to their starting positions, flexing the pec muscles as you do so. Coming back in, allow the arms to cross over.
Another cool sounding stretch, the iron cross primarily works and stretches the glutes, with your core getting in a good workout as well. Along with working the glutes and core, this stretch is also fantastic for opening up a tight back and hip flexors.
The key, however, is to not roll the body to the side when you move the leg over. This takes away from the dynamic stretch and will get you worse results in the long run. Lying on your back, reach out to the sides of your arms—they’re going to be used only to keep you stable throughout the movement.
Your palms, shoulders, and spine should all be in contact with the floor in order to ensure stability. Taking your left leg, bring it over to the right side of your body while keeping your left knee straight.
You should aim to touch the ground with your foot, but don’t roll to make this happen if you’re unable to. Hold this position for a few seconds before returning to the start position and alternating legs.
This dynamic stretching warm-up places a major emphasis on the shoulder joint. When it comes down to it, the pass through is maybe the best warm-up you can do for this region of your body.
Especially if you’re aiming for more mobility and flexibility in your shoulders. Along with your shoulders, your chest is also opened up, making this a great all-around upper-body warm-up movement.
You will need one piece of equipment, but this can take the form of a towel, stretch rope, band, or even a PVC pipe. Grab your chosen object with a wide grip horizontally in front of you.
Your arms should be straight out and your palms facing down, with an overhand grip. Engage your core and glutes, and imagine bringing the pipe towards your hips by going up and around rather than straight down.
Slowly bring the pipe overhead and behind you, bringing it as low as you’re able to. Pause at the bottom of the movement and return to the start.
This is an extremely dynamic stretch that’s fantastic for almost every part of your body. This makes it excellent for anyone’s goals and fitness routine since it stretches and strengthens several major muscle groups in the body. Not to mention the joints it opens up as well.
As the name suggests, this stretch looks like the movement of an inchworm. Begin in a standing position with feet hip-width apart, and bend at the waist while keeping your legs straight—or as straight as possible.
Have your hands go down to touch the floor in front of your feet, and then slowly walk your way out until you reach the plank position. From there, pause for a count before walking your way back in and returning to the starting position.
This is another good, full-body dynamic stretch that will ensure that your heart’s pumping and blood is flowing into all of your major muscle groups. It primarily targets the spinal column, the trunk, and the hip flexors in its strengthening and development of flexibility. You should also feel a burn in your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and abdominals.
Begin on the ground in a push-up position. Then, bring your right leg into a deep forward lunge, placing your right foot next to your hands. Shift the right knee forward to feel the stretch in the hip flexors and rotate your upper body to bring your right arm straight up as high as it will go. Bring your leg back and alternate sides.
This is a more difficult dynamic stretch, but it pays off in dividends. Although challenging, the T push-up warm-up is able to build strength in several major muscle groups.
Furthermore, it’ll work the shoulder girdle, the back muscles, obliques, and the abdominals—along with several stabilizing muscles. While you’ll be getting the standard benefits of a push-up with your chest, shoulders, and triceps being activated, the twist places a greater emphasis on your core and the obliques.
Begin by lying face down on the floor and getting into a standard push-up position. Initiate a push-up, straightening your arms. Bring one arm and raise to the ceiling while twisting your torso and rolling onto the sides of your feet. Keep your body straight at all times. Return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
This stretch is very capable of building stability in your entire body. It improves core strength and puts a special emphasis on the glutes. Along with your core and glutes, expect your hamstrings, quadriceps, hips, and upper body to also stay engaged to varying degrees.
Being by standing straight and planting your feet slightly wider than your hips. Also, turn your toes out a little while extending your arms out to either side. Hinging slightly at the waist, bend your left knee while maintaining a straight line with the right knee.
Once you’ve done this lunge movement, bring your right hand down to your left ankle. Pause at the bottom of the movement and then reverse the motion so your left hand goes down to your right ankle. It’s important to keep in mind that your back should be straight, and not rounded. Keeping the core braced will help with this.
Another key ingredient to keep your muscles in tip-top shape is the cool down. Cool downs can take many forms, but the formula we offered above works very well: light cardio, foam rolling, and some more dynamic stretching. This will help you recover faster and prevent any soreness that might otherwise happen—especially after a heavy leg day.
Cooling down is beneficial, but not talked about as much as warming up. Nevertheless, it’s a key ingredient to maximizing your gains and your performance.
But while you’re prepping for a gym session or winding down from one, it’s important to remember to support your body in an even better way: getting enough rest.
When your body rests, that’s when your muscles actually heal and develop. The gym, the field, or the track is only meant to break the muscles down. Stretching will help, but if you want to leave no gains on the table, then it’s extremely important to give your body the time it needs to rest.
The better your stretches, the fuller your sleep, the more you can expect from your body. And that’s how long-term, consistent development is achieved.