Exercise warm-up using dynamic flexibility

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Traditionally, a proper warm-up prior to a fitness activity consisted of a series of static stretches followed, in some cases, by light calisthenics. Not much thought was given to the warm-up process beyond that.

Current research on static stretching and flexibility training suggests several reasons why this type of stretching does not prevent injuries when done before exercise. First, some people believe a more flexible muscle is less likely to be injured because it can absorb more energy or force, thus reducing the risk of injury. There is no research evidence to support this claim.

Secondly, many people believe that most injuries occur when a muscle is stretched beyond its normal range of motion. This is not true. Most injuries occur within a normal range of motion. The muscle is injured during a forceful muscle contraction. Finally, it has been proven that even mild stretching can cause damage in the small connective tissue of a muscle.

Dynamic flexibility warm-ups are much more effective than static stretching in terms of reducing injuries in fitness related activities. Slow controlled movements through the full range of motion facilitate a rise in body temperature and heart rate, deepen breathing, push more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, and trigger faster nerve reactions.

Does this mean we remove stretching from the warm-up phase of our fitness routine? Absolutely not! The field of kinesiology and functional movement has yielded significant advances in the area of exercise warm-up and flexibility training. Dynamic movement and flexibility drills have now become an integral part of the exercise warm-up. Dynamic flexibility exercises are designed to train stability and range of motion at the same time. These types of exercises yield a much better prepared muscular system by training the muscles in the proper range of motion at the speeds typical of the activity or sport to be performed.
With the onset of a running culture in the Air Force, dynamic flexibility exercises can certainly be applied to an Airman's regular running workouts. An example would be "walking high knees." This dynamic stretch utilizes the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, low back and shoulder muscles, all of which are involved in jogging or running related activities. This type of movement dynamically stretches the leg, hip flexor and shoulder muscles providing the necessary exercise or event specific warm-up.
Static stretching still has its place in an exercise program. In fact a series of static stretches performed during the cool down phase of a workout will aid in the dissipation of lactic acid in the muscles and reduce the potential for muscle soreness. An effective static stretch will relax and elongate the muscle, and properly prepare it for the next exercise session. Static stretching is always performed slowly with no dynamic movement. The muscle is stretched to its end position and held for 15 to 20 seconds without movement. This process is then repeated several more times for each muscle group that was utilized during the exercise routine.

For more information on dynamic flexibility exercises and static stretching stop by the Health and Wellness Center or call 759-6024.