As the name implies, dynamic flexibility is the ability to display your full flexibility while moving. You may be able to sit in the splits, but that doesn’t mean you can throw a fast high kick. The reason for this is the stretch reflex. On other pages we’ve discussed how the stretch reflex prevents you from moving further into a static stretch, but here we will discuss a different aspect of the stretch reflex.
During static stretching, the stretch reflex is mostly triggered by the amplitude, or length, of the stretch. In addition, the stretch reflex can be triggered by the speed of movement. Through static stretching you have taught the stretch reflex your new safe limit, but when you move fast, the stretch reflex kicks in early to prevent momentum taking you beyond your safe limit. In the same way that static stretching resets the static safe limit of the reflex, dynamic stretching resets the dynamic safe limit. This can quickly allow you to display most of your static flexibility when moving, but will also increase your speed as you wont have muscles tensing against your movement.
So how do you train to increase your dynamic flexibility? This is the really simple bit. Start using controlled swinging movements to teach your body that it is safe. Start with short, slow movements and gradually build up the amplitude and speed of the stretch until you’ve gone as far as you can comfortably. As a beginner, you may require more swings (20-25 per movement) to feel like you’ve relaxed into the movement, but as you progress you will require less swings (10-15 per movement). Remember to exhale during the swing, as this will help you relax.
Always be in control, and never use momentum to push beyond your normal static stretching position. Your movements should be dynamic, not ballistic. If you start wildly thrashing around you will get injured and your dynamic flexibility will get worse.
These same principles can be used for any dynamic movement, but here is an example for improving dynamic flexibility for splits.
1) Rear Leg Swing – Face a stable object, like a chair or a table, bend forwards at the hips and hold the object with both hands. Swing the left leg backwards and upwards 10-25 times. Then repeat with the right leg.
2) Side Leg Swing – Swing the left leg out to the side 10-25 times. Try to keep the toes pointing forward, not up. You will need to tilt the hips forwards to get above 90 degrees. You can do this by leaning forward and holding on to a chair, or just tilt the hips forward and arch the lower back to maintain an upright position. Repeat on the right leg.
3) Front Leg Swing – Swing the left leg up to the front 10-25 times. Repeat on the right leg.
If you perform this routine in the morning you will find it easier to perform high kicks from cold during the day, and it’s a great part of your warm up for your evening stretching sessions or martial arts sessions.