The Dynamic Warm Up

Static stretching annoys me.  Its like a traffic jam.  You sit there forever, thinking of all the things you could be doing, glaring around at everyone while you creep toward your eventual destination.  In this age of ADD and “I needed that done yesterday”, just getting to the gym is an accomplishment….so why waste precious time sitting in place?

"By all means, move at a glacial pace, you know how that thrills me" - Devil Wears Prada

The fact is, if your training program is sound, static stretching is rendered almost completely useless.  I say “almost” because there is always the exception: sometimes it can be used as a good recovery/cool down technique, and in certain situations (like physical therapy) it can help when there is a lack of functional mobility.  But if you’re using it prior to engaging in activity, think again.

Here are a few reasons people turn to static stretching (the traditional type of stretching you’ve seen everywhere: sit, reach, cry, repeat) before they train:

  1. It is what every one says to do….and why question “every one”? Good, you’re a robot, congrats
  2. It decreases your risk of injury, right? Actually, wrong, there hasn’t been any concrete evidence to confirm or refute this fact. If you have too much laxity in your joints, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
  3. Its fun! No. I absolutely don’t believe you.
  4. It feels good because I have very tight hamstrings/back/calves/etc and sometimes have pain when I do certain exercises.  This is an acceptable answer & probably true, HOWEVER that tightness is more likely caused by a muscle imbalance that requires strengthening of the opposite muscle at the same time as stretching.  So, while the static stretching feels good, it is really only a partial solution.

Great, so what’s the alternative?

If you’ve ever been to an athletic event, you’ve probably seen the athletes running through some movements prior to the game taking place.  Lunges, skipping, shuffling, back pedaling, etc.  Even high school coaches are finally jumping on the bandwagon and creating dynamic warm ups (whether they understand why or not is a completely separate issue – but whatever).  These movements, when planned correctly, are mobility drills designed to increase range of motion around typically tight areas (hamstrings, lats, calves etc) while also adding stabilization to joints like hips, knees, ankles, shoulders.  It will also increase body temperature (hence “warm up”), and prepare the central nervous system for activity.

via Google Image

Now, while these are great for athletes before they start practice or a game, the same concept should be applied before a gym training session.  This is especially important before any kind of resistance training (which, if you haven’t started doing, then please re-read every single post I’ve ever written before continuing on. Thank you).

I already know what you’re thinking.  “Lifting weights is going to completely ruin any chance I have at being flexible.”  You’re absolutely correct – if you have sloppy training.  Everyone is used to seeing those diesel guys in the gym that walk around like they’re permanently holding two suitcases and can’t seem to move without flexing.  That didn’t happen solely because of lifting weights – that happened because of poor programming.  When you bench press all day, every day and do nothing else, that’s what happens.  But excluding yoga experts and ballet dancers, some of the most flexible people on the planet are actually Olympic weightlifters.

Olympic Weightlifting Champion Pyrros Dimas (via google image)

That movement is crazy hard to achieve.  And I guarantee this guy didn’t sit around stretching his hamstrings for hours to achieve that kind of dynamic flexibility.

Enter: the dynamic warm up.  These are exercises that target common problem areas while simultaneously preparing the body for the activity of the training session.

For example, before a session that includes some serious squatting, it is in your best interest to do a warm up that targets hip, knee, ankle, and t-spine mobility.  Body weight lunge variations, straight leg kicks, kneeling hip flexor mobility drills..these are just some examples. For a session that might include circuit-style resistance training, where every muscle is going to be worked and there isn’t a particular focus, the dynamic warm up might include more general movements: body weight squats, plank variations, various reaching (overhead, lateral) and maybe some rotation.

Ok.  Static stretching is out.  But what if I use a general aerobic warm up?

You’re still annoying me.  Just kidding – the general aerobic warm up (on a treadmill, bike, etc) isn’t all that bad.  It accomplishes the task of getting your heart rate up and increasing core temperature so the rest of the session is less shocking to the system.  But…to me its like this:  You have a complex problem [muscle imbalances, weaknesses, flexibility issues, a need to increase core temperature and heart rate, and the necessity to prep the nervous system] *AKA- you’re a mess… and now you have a few solutions to choose from.  Solution 1 is static stretching, and it covers probably 1/5 of the problem.  Solution 2 is the aerobic warm up, which might get you 2/5 of a solution if you’re lucky.  Solution 3 is the dynamic warm up which incorporates the benefits of solution 1 & 2 at the same time and also covers the rest of the issues WHILE DECREASING TIME IN THE GYM.  Game, set, match.


The other cool thing about the dynamic warm up is that it is appropriate for all levels: beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite.  For beginners, the warm up circuit might be the bulk of their training at first – it helps them get used to training and using their body as a unit (dynamic stability!) before adding weight to it.  For the more advanced lifters or athletes that place a lot of stress on their joints, it can always be revisited and tweaked to accommodate new goals.

P.S. I never said you can’t combine methods – old habits die hard.  So if you’re mentally attached to your aerobic warm up, keep it (maybe shorten it), create a dynamic circuit, and move your stretching to the end.  I guarantee you’ll notice a huge difference in your training.

In my follow up post, I will share my my current dynamic warm up (hopefully on video!), and a formula for creating your own for any training session. For those of you that already use a dynamic warm up, please share it in the comments! Thanks!


About sten06

Master's in Kinesiology: Strength & Conditioning BSed in Exercise physiology -NSCA CSCS -NASM CPT, PES -Varsity Lacrosse Coach Saving the world one workout at a time ;)

Posted on January 11, 2012, in Fitness, Strength & Conditioning, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. GREAT post. And I especially love the Devil Wears Prada reference, classic! I will admit, I am a generic warmer-upper on days that I don’t squat. On squat days, I always make sure to get a good dynamic warm up in, so I’m not sure why I get lazier about warm up on other days? I really have no rationale behind it. And its silly, because I get on my athletes like crazy if They skip their dynamic! So maybe you just convinced me that I’m being an idiot and should really have a better warm up Every day, not just squat days 🙂

    • hahahhaa that’s funny! i got into it a few years ago, even before running, and it made a huuuge difference – plus it helped me work on the things i knew i needed help with! if i saved it til the end of my workout, i wouldn’t do it – that’s when i’m most likely to slack! i’m glad this might have changed your mind! 😉

  2. Ooo good post. I take my clients through a dynamic warm up or just throw it in as an active rest for those that have mobility issues. I’m glad I’m on the right track.
    One of the strength coaches that worked with me used to Row as a warm up but then go through many warm up sets with his Olympic lifts.
    He also felt that static stretching was unnecessary as he felt that if you are able to take your athletes to the range they needed to do then that’s that.

    Can’t wait to see the video 😀

  3. i like to do the standard crossfit warmup. i did it the other day in the gym and a trainer was like.. nice workout! and i said.. er- thats just my warmup! its a circuit of hipflexor stretches, pullups, dips, overheard squat ( with a broom), sit ups and back extensions… x 3 10-15 reps

  4. My standard issue warm up for everything is 3-5min on the bike followed by dynamic stretching and some jump rope. I also do a little foam roller on my back just to get it to loosen up a bit. OH squats with a broom stick is a good one!

  1. Pingback: A Stadium Workout | I Train, Therefore I Eat.

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