What is Dynamic Flexibility?

Jacob Queen

Dynamic flexibility is generally defined based on a person's range of motion during movements, particularly during fast-paced movements. This is contrasted to static flexibility, which has more to do with a person’s ability to hold a stationary stretch. There are special dynamic stretching exercises designed to promote dynamic flexibility, and this approach to stretching has become popular in certain sports. The main reason for its popularity is a belief that static flexibility might hamper muscle performance, while dynamic stretching can offer the same benefits without the potential downsides.

Some simple stretches and strength exercises can encourage flexibility.
Some simple stretches and strength exercises can encourage flexibility.

When training for dynamic flexibility, athletes will generally focus on exercises, which take the muscles to their flex limit during a motion. For example, the athlete may kick his feet upward in a controlled motion to flex the musculature. Over time, these exercises will generally increase the height at which the athlete is able to kick.

While stretching exercises will often increase flexibility in a short time, dramatic improvements in flexibility can take more than a year to accomplish.
While stretching exercises will often increase flexibility in a short time, dramatic improvements in flexibility can take more than a year to accomplish.

This exercise approach is generally very similar to an older method of stretching called ballistic stretching, but there are a few differences. Ballistic stretching also promoted dynamic flexibility, but it had a tendency to cause injuries. The primary difference was in the speed and aggressiveness of the motions used. Ballistic stretching used more forceful motions, and there wasn’t as much care taken to avoid injuries. With dynamic stretching, the motions are generally more controlled and gentle, which allows for a more gradual stretch.

Practicing yoga may help improve flexibility.
Practicing yoga may help improve flexibility.

The other common approach to stretching that athletes use is called static stretching. This involves stretching the muscle to its limit and then holding the stretch for a length of time. Some experts think that this might hinder the elasticity of muscles and thereby decrease performance in strength-based activities. Many experts also believe that static stretching might help avoid injuries, but research has generally shown that it isn’t very effective for that either. There is also some research that suggests the performance problems of static stretching could be mitigated by holding the stretches for a shorter length of time.

Dynamic stretches are good warm-up exercises for runners.
Dynamic stretches are good warm-up exercises for runners.

Exercises to promote dynamic flexibility have become relatively common in athletics competitions, but are generally not as popular for medical rehabilitation. Some of these exercises require too much athletic ability and rapid movement, while injured people may need more gentle exercises that can help restore their range of motion. There are some experts that believe a mix of static and dynamic flexibility exercises could be useful for muscle rehabilitation, but it is still debated.

According to experts, most stretches should be held for at least 15 seconds.
According to experts, most stretches should be held for at least 15 seconds.
It is a widely held belief that static flexibility may hamper muscle performance in comparison to dynamic flexibility.
It is a widely held belief that static flexibility may hamper muscle performance in comparison to dynamic flexibility.
Cat/cow yoga stretches are generally more controlled and gentle, which allows for a more gradual stretch.
Cat/cow yoga stretches are generally more controlled and gentle, which allows for a more gradual stretch.
Physical therapists can help someone recovering from an injury regain their flexibility.
Physical therapists can help someone recovering from an injury regain their flexibility.

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