You may have heard your friends talk about how much they lift or how many calories they burned on the treadmill. But not many people talk about the warm-ups they do before training. Active range of motion exercises, also known as dynamic flexibility, are essential to prevent injuries and improve how you play and perform. They types of exercises you do for your lower extremities depend on what sport or activity you play and your fitness level.
Isolation, One at a Time
Dynamic flexibility can work on one joint or multiple joints. Isolation exercises focus on moving one single joint to improve its range of motion, such as actively moving your ankle, knee or hip joint. Although this technique is often used in physical rehabilitation, you can blend isolation exercises with your warm-ups even when you're healthy. Sample isolation techniques for your legs include supine active hamstring stretch, active kneeling hip flexor stretch and active supine ankle rotations.
Triple Joint Combo
In most sports and activities, your ankles, knees and hip joints work together to move in a variety of patterns. Dynamic flexibility prepares your lower body by moving these joints together in a rhythmic and controlled manner repetitively. The movement patterns should resemble the sport or activity you are going perform, such as sprinting or kicking. This improves tissue elasticity, blood flow and neural activity. Sample exercises include hip and leg swings, body-weight squats, lunges, running butt kicks and skipping.
Planes of Motion
Don't just move in one direction. When you watch how most martial artists and dancers move, they move everywhere. You can take almost any dynamic flexibility exercise and move your joints and muscles in more than one direction. For example, you can swing your legs back and forth, side to side and in a diagonal pattern. Other examples include forward lunges with a torso rotation and turning your ankles in a circular pattern while stretching your hamstrings on your back.
Never stretch beyond what your body is capable of moving. Stretching too far and too fast causes your muscles and joints to undergo a stretch reflex, which is an involuntary contraction of the tissues. This causes your joints and muscles to become stiffer, more sensitive to touch and resistant to length change. If you experience pain when you move, check with your health-care provider before starting any exercise program.
- Stretch to Win; Ann and Chris Frederick
- IDEA Fitness Journal: Stretching -- A Research Retrospective
- IDEA Fitness Journal: The Planar Training Method
Nick Ng has been writing fitness articles since 2003, focusing on injury prevention and exercise strategies. He has covered health for "MiaBella" magazine. Ng received his Bachelor of Arts in communications from San Diego State University in 2001 and has been a certified fitness coach with the National Academy of Sports Medicine since 2002.