Comparing Static and Dynamic Warm-Ups
By Mackenzie Walker of JCPT and collegiate track athlete at Washington University in St. Louis
A good workout starts with a good warm-up. But what is a good warm up? Is there a “right” way? Recent research advises dynamic stretching over static. While static stretching holds positions for a period of time, dynamic stretching uses controlled, repetitive movements that bring joints through their full range of motion.
But why is it considered better? How do you do a dynamic warm-up? Let’s take a closer look.
Dynamic vs Static – The Science Behind It
Incorporating dynamic stretching into your warm-up has many benefits. It can improve agility, speed, and performance. It also reduces the risk of injury–by as much as 30%! By moving joints through their full range of motion, dynamic movements increase body temperature and wake up soft tissue with gentle stress. It creates a thixotropic effect, where muscles and tendons become less stiff and tight. Think of microwaving a jar of honey after it crystalizes; dynamic movement has the same effect on your body’s tension. It also activates muscle spindles, amplifying the electrical communication between brain and body and making muscles more responsive.
Static stretching, in contrast, has the opposite effect: it suppresses muscle spindles and slows the electrical messages. While both forms of stretching reduce tightness, dynamic movement serves as a better method for muscle activation; static stretching may serve better for muscle lengthening and relaxation. (After a workout is a great time for this!)
If you want to try out a dynamic warm-up, begin with light intensity cardio for 5-10 minutes. (e.g. jogging, cycling, or fast-paced walking). Foam rolling can also be helpful to increase blood flow.
Next, jump into your dynamic stretches. Select 6-8 exercises that align with your workout (e.g. agility based movements for soccer, mobility for lifting). Complete 2-3 sets for 15-30 seconds each, starting out slow and increasing the intensity as you progress. It can also be helpful to lead with lower body movements, as focusing on larger muscles first can increase body temperature faster. The total stretching routine should take about 5-10 minutes.
Here are ideas for a couple of warm-up routines geared towards running and lifting. Try them out and see what works best for you!
Calling All Runners
As a track athlete, I work through a dynamic warm-up at the beginning of every practice. I typically foam roll, jog for 5-10 minutes, then complete about 10 minutes of exercises similar to the video linked below (the lunge twist is one of my favorites!):
DIY – Dynamic warm up for Runners
I sometimes do bird dogs after I foam roll to activate my core and glutes:
How to Do the Bird Dog Exercise | Abs Workout
I also like adding in forward, backward, and lateral leg swings at the end:
3. Leg Swings – Active Warm-Up – Fully Fit by Runner’s World
The Research – Be a Better Runner!
Warming up properly can help you run with more efficiency and less pain. In a study from 2021, 3 groups completed a 10 minute running warm-up. After, one group performed dynamic stretches, one group static, and one no stretching. All groups then completed a run-to-exhaustion test.
After analyzing data, the stretching groups showed lower exertion levels (both mental and physical) and improved running economy (i.e. needed less oxygen). Why not put aside a few minutes for a dynamic warm-up that could make your run seem easier? Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
Calling All Lifters
As an olympic lifter, I usually stick with mobility-based movements for my warm-up. Bodyweight versions of lifts, such as controlled squats and lunges, are a good place to start.
I also like to include lateral lunging, inch worms, arm circles, or even yoga movements like downward and upward dog. My last stage of movements I typically do with the barbell, stretching out front rack, torso mobility, squats, and slow good mornings.
For a helpful visual, Catalyst Athletics has a couple of great videos linked below:
How to Warm Up for Olympic Weightlifting with Greg Everett – Catalyst Athletics
Catalyst Athletics Standard Athletic Dynamic Warm-up
The Research – Be a Better Lifter!
A study published in 2014 suggests that dynamic stretching can improve the quality of complex lifts. The study compared groups who completed either 10 minutes of a warm-up (a), dynamic stretching (b), or no preparation. (see figure below)
Afterwards, the subjects performed air squats (a), overhead squats (b), front squats (c ), and deadlifts (d). (see figure below)
The individuals’ balance and stability were measured using foot sensors to detect their center of pressure (CoP) during the exercises. The dynamic stretching group showed better stability and balance, especially in the more complex movements: weight shifted towards their heels and their CoP varied less, while the warm-up group varied more and kept pressure on their toes.
As a result, only the dynamic stretching group showed improved stability in the overhead squat (a highly complex lift). They would also be more likely to achieve the proper bottom position–weight back on heels, stable, and balanced (see photo “b” below).
This bottom position is notoriously problematic for Olympic lifters. If you’re looking to lose fewer snatches, a dynamic warm-up could be the perfect solution.
Bottom Line – Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment!
It can take time to find a fitting warm-up for your body and exercise habits. There is no “right” way. While dynamic stretching is likely to bring you the most benefit, the specifics of your personal routine will vary.
Are you a runner? Lifter? Just someone looking to move their body and feel better while doing it? All of the pieces of you and your lifestyle play into what will work best. I encourage you to explore new exercises, see how they feel, and modify if needed. Your body will thank you!