Did you know that changing up your routine before you run (or adding one if you go into it cold) might be the way to run faster? Yep, that’s right. If you’re like most runners, you’re not spending much time stretching before your runs. And even if you are, you might be using static stretches.
In fact, static stretching is so ingrained in how we think about warming up that the term “dynamic stretching” is unknown to many. But adding just five dynamic stretches before your runs will not only help prevent injuries but also allow you to run faster! So, what are you waiting for?
Dynamic stretching is incorporating movement of specific body parts to warm up and stretch.
Let’s look at the benefits of dynamic stretches and why you should add them to your pre-run routine, as well as five sample dynamic stretches that anyone can do. Although there are many options out there, I picked my five favorites. A quick internet search will provide you with a wealth of options, so you can find the best ones for you.
Benefits of Dynamic Stretches
Taking the extra 5-10 minutes to transition from rest to active by warming up your body through dynamic stretches will help eliminate stress on your body. Plus, you’ll have a greater range of motion, greater efficiency in your muscles and ligaments, increased oxygen availability and lung capacity, and development of a routine for mental preparation.
In short, dynamic stretching will prepare your body mentally and physically for your run.
But what about static stretching? Isn’t that just as good? According to experts, no.
In fact, static stretching, especially before exercise, has no proven effect in preventing injuries, and may even reduce running efficiency! If you’re looking for a good performance at a race or even in training runs, you may be sabotaging your abilities (or at least limiting them) with static stretches.
Finally, different studies, including one about static versus dynamic stretching before vertical jumps, have shown that dynamic stretching improves performance, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to incorporate several dynamic stretches into your pre-run routine to get the most out of your workout.
1. Leg Swings (Front and Side)
I’ve found that leg swings are the best dynamic stretch that I can do to get me ready for my run. You’ll want to do both front, which targets your hamstring and hip flexor muscles, and side, which targets your abductor/adductor muscle groups and core. Both will give you increased range of movement and a stronger core.
For front leg swings, you’ll want to keep your body straight with good pelvic alignment and then swing one leg, front to back, 20 times. Switch legs and repeat. The movement should be controlled and not too quick. In addition, you should avoid rotating your trunk, torso, or pelvis.
Similarly, for side leg swings, you should stand tall with your head up and swing one leg across your body and back 20 times. Change legs and repeat. Again, this motion is controlled and not forced, and your body should not rotate.
Because leg swings engage nearly every leg muscle, they prep the lower body for any type of movement, which is ideal for running. If you have time for only one dynamic stretch, this should be your go-to!
2. High Knees
With high knees, you are exaggerating the basic running form by bringing your knees up higher than normal. It’s ideal if you can get them up above your waistline. The idea is to keep your feet moving fast and your body (including ankles, hips, knees, and shoulders) forward.
Again, you should perform this stretch over a distance of 15-20 yards. High knees increase circulation to your lower limbs, give you an increased range of motion in your hip and knee joints, and gently stretch the muscles needed for more demanding cardio and strength-training workouts.
There are variations of high knees if you want either more sedate or deeper stretching. One example is high-knee grabs. If you struggle with balance, you can always complete your high knees near a wall in order to lightly touch it with your fingertips to stay balanced.
3. Butt Kicks
Butt kicks are similar to high knees but in the opposite direction. You should kick your heels toward your backside (as the name implies!) and keep your thighs perpendicular to the ground. Like high knees, this is a fast movement, and again, you should keep your ankles, hips, knees, and shoulders facing forward.
Experts recommend performing dynamic stretches like butt kicks over a distance of 15-20 yards (or half of a basketball court). Butt kicks target your hamstrings and quads. Since you’re getting your heel up behind you, it helps to lengthen your quads.
Some of my friends call Frankensteins “Nazi zombies,” and that’s what I always think when I complete them. If you want to increase hamstring flexibility, Frankensteins are the way to do it. In addition, you’ll also activate your quads and hip flexors.
Start by facing forward and keeping one leg straight as you kick it up (with control) in front of you as high as you can. You should try to touch the fingertips of your hand on your opposite arm. And then switch to the other leg. Continue alternating for 15-20 yards. Think of Frankensteins as a straight leg march.
5. Lateral Lunges
If you want to work a lot of different muscles, lateral lunges are the move for you. You’ll engage the hamstrings, glutes, quads, and inner thighs, as well as stretching your groin and opening up your hips.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lunge to one side and return to the starting position, pushing up with your heel. Repeat on the other side and alternate until you’ve completed 10-15 reps for each leg.
In closing, happy running! If you get bored with these dynamic stretches, you can always look up others on Google to give yourself some variety. There are lots of options to choose from so there’s no excuse not to incorporate dynamic stretching before your runs!