Whether you’re working out by yourself or joining group exercise classes, most of us know by now that every healthy workout should begin and end with active stretching. But, there are as many different stretches as there are muscles in our bodies—and then some! And figuring out the dynamic warm up and cool down stretches to use and when to do them is crucial to optimizing your warm-ups and cool-downs.
Maybe you’re wondering how to loosen up your hips before diving into your workout. Or maybe you’re trying to determine how to mitigate post-workout cramps during your cool-down. For that, we’ll need to lean into the differences between static vs dynamic stretching. Let’s dive in.
Defining Dynamic and Static Stretching
Whether you’re beginning your fitness journey or a fitness pro, incorporating stretches into your workout routine can aid your athletic performance, decrease the risks of injury, and improve your flexibility. But what’s the difference between dynamic stretches vs static stretches? Let’s explore:
- Dynamic stretching – Dynamic stretches are movements that mimic the actions you’re going to be doing during your workout. For instance, if you’ve ever done some light jogging in place before starting your daily run, then you were actually doing a dynamic stretch. Utilizing these controlled movements will warm up your muscles and get you ready to perform at your best.
- Static stretching – Static stretches, on the other hand, are when you move a muscle as far as you can without hurting yourself, then hold that position for a certain length of time (usually 45 seconds to a minute). Bending down to touch your toes is probably the first stretch they teach in elementary school gym class, and it’s a static one.
Ideally, your workout will look something like this:
- 5-10 minutes of dynamic stretching
- Main exercise/activity
- 5-10 minutes of cool-down that includes static stretching
Now, let’s push further and learn how to best incorporate these movements into your routine.
Warming Up With Dynamic Stretching
If you want to perform your best during your workout, then it’s better to start with dynamic stretching vs static stretching. Numerous studies have shown that dynamic stretching leads to improved athletic performance.1
You can think of your dynamic stretching as a rehearsal for your actual workout.
Dynamic stretching gets your body primed for action by:
- Increasing blood flow – Better circulation raises the temperature of your muscles to literally warm you up. That leads to increased flexibility and more oxygen for your muscles.
- Sharpening nerves – Your nervous system sends signals to your muscles to get them working, so you need to warm that up too. Dynamic stretching helps prepare your brain for the movements you’ll be doing during your workout, thus leading to improved reaction time.
- Reducing stiffness – Passive resistance from your muscles and joints can lead to injury during workouts. Dynamic stretching reduces that stiffness and leads to a greater range of motion.
Remember, you don’t want to exhaust yourself during your dynamic stretching routine. For the best results, stick to 10-12 repetitions of each movement and don’t do anything that hurts.
Designing Your Dynamic Stretching Routine
With dynamic stretching, it’s important to focus on the muscles that you’re going to use during your workout. Think about how swimmers swing their arms before diving into the pool for a race—they’re dynamically stretching their arms.
That being said, each aspect of your dynamic stretching routine should be tailored for the specific exercise you’re about to do. We’ve picked out some of our favorite dynamic stretches to give you some ideas of how to prime your body for your workout:
- Leg swings – Move your leg back and forth like a pendulum, either forward-and-back or side-to-side. This movement engages your hip flexors and legs, preparing you to run.
- Walking lunges – Put your hands on your hips, take a step forward, and lunge. For proper form, keep your forward knee in line with your hip and ankle, and don’t let your back knee touch the ground. Walking lunges are a great all-purpose dynamic stretch for any cardio workout or sport.
- Walking lunges with torso twists – Turning your body as you lunge engages your core and warms up your spine. Loosening your muscles is especially important if you’re lifting weights or engaging in a sport that requires throwing.
- Squats – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly lower yourself into a squatting position. Squats are great for warming up your entire body and are the perfect warm-up for just about any workout.
- Cat-Cow – One of our favorite yoga poses is also a dynamic stretch that warms up the shoulders and back. Get down on all fours with a flat back, then arch like a cat with your head down, and then raise your head and lower your core like a cow. The meowing and mooing are totally optional, but they may help you loosen up.
Should You Warm Up With Static Stretches, Too?
Maybe you’re wondering if you should incorporate static stretching into your warm-up alongside dynamic stretching. The more limbered up you are, the better you’ll perform, right?
Well, that’s not necessarily true.
Static stretching actually relaxes your muscles, which can lead to decreased performance during your workouts.2 Just like you wouldn’t throw on some smooth jazz to get you pumped up for a competition, you can’t expect muscles that are chilled out from static stretching to perform at their peak level.
However, some experts do recommend incorporating some short static stretches into a dynamic stretching warm-up.3 When held for only 15 seconds or so (as opposed to the 60-90 seconds we’ll recommend below), a static stretch in a warm-up can help increase your range of motion and flexibility, thus reducing your risk of injury.
Cooling Down With Static Stretching
Unlike dynamic stretching, which prepares your muscles for action, static stretching should be incorporated as part of a restorative cool-down. As mentioned above, static stretching involves extending a joint as far as you can without pain, then maintaining that position for 45 to 90 seconds. These movements help “reset” your muscles to their pre-workout shape.
The benefits of static stretching include:
- Decreased soreness – Nobody wants to feel worse after their workout than they did before. Static stretching sends blood and oxygen to your muscles, improving recovery time and reducing painful muscle fatigue.
- Reduced tension – Sometimes, an intense workout can leave your body feeling tense. Taking some time for static stretching gives you a chance to unclench and let your body relax.
- Better balance – Because a lot of static stretches involve holding a certain position, you’re also working on your balance and equilibrium. This can have the further knock-on effect of improving your posture.
- Improved performance next time – In the long term, static stretching can help build flexibility and range of motion, which in turn will leave you feeling healthier and more well-equipped to tackle your next workout.
Calibrating Your Cool-down
Just like your static stretching warm-up focused on waking up the muscles you used in your workout, your cool-down should be designed to relax those same muscles. A period of static stretching is also a great time to focus on your breathing, bring down your heart rate, and center yourself mentally.
Some of our favorite static stretches include:
- Sleeper stretch – This is also known as a shoulder stretch or a posterior capsule stretch. Bring one arm across your chest and use your other arm to pull it gently toward your body. This is a great stretch after lifting weights or after a sport like basketball.
- Hamstring stretch – Put one leg forward with the foot on its heel (you can use a low stool or step to help). Then, bend forward from your hips until you feel the stretch in your thigh. Your legs will thank you if you do this stretch after a run.
- Quadriceps stretch – While standing, hold your ankle in one hand and pull your heel back toward your butt. Remember to keep your back straight and your core tight. This is another good stretch for after any lower body workout.
- Core stretch – Lay face down, then push your shoulders and chest away from the floor. This stretch is commonly known as the cobra pose in yoga, and it’s a great way to stretch your abdomen.
Static Stretching: Not Just For After Workouts
Sometimes, your body just calls out for a good stretch. Even if you haven’t just finished a workout, there are certain times during a day when a sequence of static stretching can improve your overall health and well-being, such as:
- After meetings, if you’re stuck behind a desk all-day
- Following a long car ride
- Before you go to bed
Stretching your muscles during the day, especially if you’re too busy to squeeze in a full workout, can be critical to a person’s long-term health and mobility.
Final thoughts on stretching
There’s a reason why most athletic training sessions include stretching. Some of the benefits of stretching include injury prevention, boosting muscle performance, improving the ability to perform any physical activity, and reducing muscle tension. So do not underestimate the power of stretching.
Warm-Up and Cool-Down at Chuze Fitness
We hope this article has answered your big questions about dynamic stretching vs static stretching. But if you’re still wondering how to work these stretches into your specific workout plan, the friendly team at your local Chuze Fitness is here to help.
At Chuze Fitness, we love to support the folks in our fitness community—both on and off the floor. Our team is en-chuze-iastic about sharing knowledge to help everyone perform at their best. We have several facilities in different states, so you can find a “Chuze gym near me.” We even have a playlist you can listen to motivate you.
That’s not a stretch for us—at Chuze Fitness, it’s just what we do.
Ani is the Vice President of Fitness at Chuze Fitness and oversees the group fitness and team training departments. She’s had a 25+ year career in club management, personal training, group exercise and instructor training. Ani lives with her husband and son in San Diego, CA and loves hot yoga, snowboarding and all things wellness.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Four-Week Dynamic Stretching Warm-up Intervention Elicits Longer-Term Performance Benefits. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2008/07000/four_week_dynamic_stretching_warm_up_intervention.36.aspx
- European Journal of Applied Physiology. The effects of different durations of static stretching within a comprehensive warm-up on voluntary and evoked contractile properties. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29721606/
- Frontiers in Physiology. Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01468/full