Reading the headline, you might ask – what the heck is dynamic active stretching?! Chances are high you thought that they are:
- One and the same thing
- Two different concepts – Dynamic Stretching & Active Stretching
- The opposite of static stretching
But let me say – all of these are close to the truth yet not exactly correct. The above terms, static stretching, dynamic stretching & active stretching are all no correct terms regarding scientific accuracy and get more thrown around by people that are not aware of the subtle, but important differences. So why am I playing this linguistic card that might not sound like leading to much?
Because it matters. The system of flexibility I stick to, proposing 4 types of flexibility, helps us train specifically. By training the trait you want to enforce, you will get better at it. In strength training, everybody thinks this way. Nobody would train squats and expect free gains for their bench press, or train strength-endurance and expect huge carryovers to their 1-RM. My point is that if you want to get better at your 1-RM, you need to train specifically. It is the same with flexibility. And by playing the above card of definitions, we make sure we all talk about the same and understand what it is we’re talking about.
So without further introductory ado, let’s dive into dynamic active flexibility and clarify first what it actually is before we get very practicable and look at the uses within our warmup, training & daily life.
What is Dynamic Active Stretching?
Let’s define Dynamic Active Stretching!
Dynamic Active Stretching is the act of training your dynamic active flexibility.
Dynamic active flexibility on the other hand is 1 out of 4 types one can categorize different types of flexibility in. So far, so good. Let’s have a brief look at the 4 types of flexibility before we proceed and talk exactly about the common types of exercises that fall into that category.
<u>What are the 4 Types of Flexibility?</u>
The 4 types of flexibility are static passive, static active, dynamic passive, and dynamic active. All of those types define different positions and degrees of activation your body can forego. The first query, static or dynamic, stands for the position of the joint. If it doesn’t move it is the former, if it does the latter. The second query, passive or active, defines the fact what your muscles are doing. Or better said if they are doing something or not.
The 4 Types of Stretching
From these 4 types of flexibility, we can derive the 4 types of flexibility training that lead to the improvement of each. You can imagine each of those like a different type of strength – maximum strength, strength endurance, or explosive strength. While they share common traits, in detail they are different. Yet, training one will also provide a carryover to the others. Nonetheless, the carryover effect will always be inferior to the effect of training the trait directly.
Within the category of flexibility for our post today, dynamic active stretching, we can find many commonly used exercise types:
- Loaded Stretches using additional weight*, or your bodyweight to get deeper in and out of a stretch.
- Ballistic Stretches using momentum propelling you forward into more than your maximal stretch.
- Controlled Articular Rotations, meaning simply joint rotations that are done with control.
- Dynamic Movements like for example a transition from a downward to an upward dog or from a squat into a 9090 position.
Within all of these exercises, we fulfill the criteria of dynamic active stretching – the joints move and your muscles are active. And here we bring the definitional madness full circle. I hope you know see why I tried to enforce it. Because it matters, not because I get pleasure by being a didactic jackass.
Before we get into the practical use of the above-mentioned exercises for your flexibility training, let’s first have a look at what Dynamic Stretching & Active Stretching then mean within our framework of thoughts.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic Stretching is a term that stems from public language. Often a flexibility exercise is meant that involves active movement. Yet as we know, this term does tell you nothing about the joint position, only about the current state of the muscles. That said, it totally ignores static dynamic stretches like for example mobilizations done by a therapist or coach.
For the sake of precise understanding, dynamic stretching is a misnomer and often misleading. It implies that the other stretching, static is passive. If you ever did one set of isometric compression work, you know that it is far away from passive and probably the most uncomfortable type of stretching one can forego.
How comes Active Stretching into Play?
Active Stretching, another common term thrown around, partakes in the same fallacy that there is only active and passive stretching. Like we said, even static stretches, with your joint in a single position, can be very demanding and are far from a solely passive exercise. Even the classic static passive stretching, holding a position for a longer bout of time trying to sink deeper, can have many forms:
- This form of stretching can be very relaxing. A ton of findings shows that it can help people fall asleep, interocept, and wind down, especially in the combination with breathing.
- Hanging in a passive pike stretch with weight on your back or even a partner pushing you down 1 this stretch quickly goes from a walk in the park to hellish. It becomes an exercise that one needs to recover from, yet with powerful effects.
That said, Active Stretching commits the same fallacy as the previous term does. That is why we matter about definitions and try to speak about the same things as clear as possible. Now that we got that covered – let’s get practical and think about how to use all these definitions for what matters – progress!
Dynamic Active Stretching for your Warmup
Dynamic Active Stretching fits neatly into your warmups because of its pro-movement nature. In that way, it covers a lot of range and makes for great general warmups.
Controlled Articular Rotations (CARs)
Controlled Articular Rotations, or abbreviated CARs, are nothing more than joint rotations performed slowly and with control. The name stems from the fancy Functional Range Conditioning concept brought into life by Dr. Andreo Spina. But without going too far down that rabbit hole, let’s say that joint rotations or CARs, whatever you prefer, are a great tool. Especially in your general warmup, they come quite handy as they cover a lot of joint functions, need no equipment, and can literally be done anywhere. Plus, you can get quite creative with them.
For your warmup, I’d go for 8-10 repetitions of the joints you want to train afterward. The crucial point here is to go slow and use your muscles to perform the circles. At no time, you should be swinging or feel out of control. On the other hand, there is no need to go super slow and suffer through it – it still is a warmup. The middle way will yield the best results.
Dynamic Movements & Transitions
Other than CARs, general dynamic exercises do great for a warmup. Many folks would call these ‘classic mobility exercises’ – whatever they mean by that. As we know, they are still dynamic active exercises, with moving joints and active muscles. A few examples that fit well into a warmup are:
- Upward Dog to Downward Dog
- Squat to 9090 Position
- Lunge to World Greatest Stretch
- Table Stretch to Backbend
- Forward Roll/Backward Roll
- plus a myriad more
What all of them do is combine active movement with many joint functions and positions your body can be in. That’s why they are a great choice for a general warmup. Perform a few that fit your following workout for time or reps -you’ll feel great and ready to go!
The Use of Dynamic Active Stretching for your Training
In the context of actual flexibility training, this kind of flexibility shines the brightest. There are many applications where one can integrate it into your practice. This is probably while many dynamic active exercises are commonly (mis-)termed as mobility exercises when you glimpse over at social media channels.
Nonetheless, the following ones are useful tools for the advanced beginner that knows the basic positions and his body – he who wants to explore other, often more effective techniques, especially if used in combination with other types like isometric & static holds.
Loaded Stretches are, logically, stretches that add external weight to the exercise. The external weight can either be a true weight or a partner using his body or even entire bodyweight to propel you further. This weight pulls in the same direction as the vector of force within the stretch. Great examples of loaded stretches are:
- The Pike & Straddle Jefferson Curl, where you hold a barbell with added weight*. It once acts as a classic weight to strengthen your spinal articulation, on the other hand as a supportive weight that pulls you deeper into the very bottom position of it.
- A weighted Pike or Pancake Stretch is often loaded up by a bumper plate* or partner. This more passive stretch uses an external weight to help you sink further into your end range. This is very efficient, but most be done with good communication.
- We could even term a Hanging Leg Raise with added ankle weights* as a loaded stretch, as it actively trains the shortening side of a pike position. You see what we did here. Even a classical strength exercise can be a flexibility exercise.
For your practice, you often want to start your flexibility sessions with a loaded stretch, as they’re great tools to make a lot of range subsequently accessible. This additional range then enables you to specifically strengthen and explore it with a wide host of following exercises.
Ballistic Stretching is a different beast and nowadays looked upon controversially by many trainers and professionals. Yet it is an awesome, but horrifyingly painful, method to gain range quickly. You literally suffer to your success. Ballistic Stretching is characterized by the use of momentum to go beyond your current end range capacities. This way you want to teach your body to explore these ranges and push your boundaries. Classic ballistic exercises are:
- Kicks where you set a target and try to kick beyond that target on each kick while maintaining a straight leg. Stretch kicks take these even further by adding a downward contracting, meaning you’re trying to smash your foot back down into the floor after kicking towards this target. Needless to say, that stretch kicks need acclimatization and are nothing to fool around with.
- Bouncing to a target – we could take a pike or pancake stretch and make you bounce towards a target in front of you.2 The target then marks your maximal depth and we want you to exceed that maximum on each rep.
It often makes sense to set a rhythm for bouncing. Generally, you do not want to exceed 60BPM or one pulse per second, sometimes less is more. Per position, 20-100 pulses will do the trick, depending on how fervent you are and the position you use. I’d use them after a warmup and as a standalone method for a cycle to work on your flexibility. To learn more, check out this post by Emmet Louis.
Dynamic movements can be a lot of things, indeed. What I mean by that are generally exercises that make you move in the direction of your stretched position to strengthen the active side of it. A good example is a Jefferson curl for things pike, or arch holds to build strength for a bridge.
These actively try to strengthen the shortening side. Every stretch consists of a stretched muscle and muscles pulling you into the position. While many people stretch a lot, approaching the strength side of every specific stretch is often overlooked.
Dynamic movements fit in very well in the middle of your flexibility workouts and many exercises can be well combined with either end range holds for time on the last repetition, or an isometric contraction before you perform you reps.
Dynamic Active Stretching to move throughout the Day
In daily life, dynamic active stretching comes the most natural and can help you limber up in the morning, feel better in a 5-minute work break, or calm down before going to sleep in the evening. Of course, it all depends on the intensity, and generally, you want to keep it low. The goal is to feel good, not be productive or get something particular done.
In the morning hours, movement can help tremendously to limber up, feel good, and be awake. Plus, your morning routine doesn’t need to take ages, a few movements performed for 5-10 minutes will work wonders right away.
Great exercises are those that move many parts all at once – I like to call those Big Moves. In this vague category, you can throw moves like:
- The Upward Dog to Downward Dog
- Forward & Backward Rolls
- Squats & 9090’s
- Lunge Movements that lead into a Cossack or World Greatest Stretch
All of those do one thing – they get you moving as a whole. I guess you get the gist. Other great exercises I love in particular are neck circles, just because they feel awesome.
Throughout the day, brief bouts of movement can help you limber up, too. I really enjoy a walk in between bouts of work, or if leaving the building is not an option or the time is relatively brief just a few movements incorporating rotation, and side bending feel great. A few good ones are:
- Shoulder Rotations
- Spinal Rotations & Side Bends
- Neck Rotations
For all of them, you do not need a thing, not even a lot of space, and they can even be done while waiting for the next coffee to brew.
Generally, more passive stretches fit better in the evening as light stretches trigger your parasympathetic nervous system and are proven to help you to calm down, especially paired with intent breathing. Nonetheless, some dynamic movements simply feel good, especially those adding rotation and sidebending. And let’s be honest, everybody needs a bit of hedonistic pleasure. Great dynamic active exercises are:
- Squat Rotations
- 9090 Stretch & Switches
- Straddle Sidebends
All Flexibility Methods work as a Tandem
The 4 forms of flexibility work together rather than in a hierarchy and are not replaceable. Just because one type of stretching is your favorite, or undergoes a hype on social media, it does not mean the others are inferior. Passive stretching underwent such a bad reputation lately, yet it was the default method hundreds of gymnasts and dancers got insanely flexible with throughout the last century.
More often, you find that all of these works the most efficiently when used together. You could for example program:
- Holds on each rep within the stretch for 5s
- A passive hold on the last rep
- Start an exercise with an isometric, which is a static dynamic exercise, followed by the active reps
- Just stretch passively for a long time followed by active repetitions
… and a lot more! They are solely tools and while you cannot perform every household job there is with a hammer, having one downstairs while knowing how to use it is probably a good thing. That said, we reached the end of today’s post and made our way through the jungles of definitions towards all facets of dynamic active stretching. We covered a lot of ground! If this topic interests you, make sure to check out the posts on the other 3 types of flexibility, that are – dynamic passive, static passive & static active. They are structured likewise and will take you through all the practical uses of each.
- One could also call this a loaded stretch. As you see, the boundaries regarding these loose terms are more fleeting. A loaded stretch can be a ‘passive stretch’ just hanging there in your end range, or it can be a very dynamic exercise like a loaded Jefferson Curl. You’re still with me?
- Emmet Louis has a great ballistic pancake routine online on YouTube – give it a view if you’re looking out for something fancy, yet highly effective!