Dynamic flexibility is the ability of a body part to move through a specific range of motion during a functional activity, such as walking, kicking a football, or picking something up off of the floor. It differs from static flexibility, or the ability to stretch into a position, and hold that position, for a period of time. Dynamic flexibility has become widely used in sports as a way to gain better flexibility, proprioception, agility, and power in athletes. It has taken the place of static stretching prior to activity for numerous sports teams, and has been shown to decrease sports injuries as well as improve sports function.
Take hamstring flexibility, for example. Everyone knows how to statically stretch their hamstring muscles (i.e. place a straight leg up on a table and bend forward with their body until the hamstring muscle is stretched). A football punter needs extreme hamstring flexibility, in order to violently kick a football down the field. Statically, the punter could stretch his hamstrings to the point of kissing his kneecaps. When he actually punts a football, his hamstring flexibility is nowhere near that amount of range, which shows the difference of static versus dynamic flexibility. Dynamic hamstring stretching consists of actively going through motions that simulate the needed task, such as performing straight leg kicks, or doing ‘Silly’ walks.
Performing 20 repetitions of each of those prior to kicking a football will ‘warm’ up the hamstring muscles and wake them up as if telling them, “I am prepping to kick a football, and I need you to be ready for it.” Testing hamstring flexibility before and after those dynamic stretches will show significant increases in hamstring length, compared to the gains of static stretching.
I have athletes perform 10-15 minutes of dynamic flexibility exercises prior to every practice or competition. I use the stretches found in this book by Mark Vergstegen. These 10 stretches dynamically prep the athlete for most types of active movements, many of them mimicking positions of injury for the body that are common in sports. Proper technique is stressed, while maintaining good core balance, breathing, and active muscle contractions to maximize the quick stretch. They are held for approximately 3-5 seconds each, and performed five times per side. The three dynamic flexibility exercises shown below are (in order): inverted hamstring, backward lunge with a twist, and the drop lunge.
Incorporating dynamic flexibility into your warm-up routine will help decrease injury risk while improving flexibility and overall strength and power. Prior to implementing a program which includes dynamic flexibility training, it is vital to understand the concept of core balance, and one should already have adequate flexibility and strength, in order to perform the stretches properly and prevent unnecessary injuries from these stretches. Consult with a health professional prior to adding this component, become educated on proper technique, and enjoy the great gains seen in function by adding dynamic flexibility training to your regimen.