Dynamic stretching helps promote the temperature-related benefits of a general warm-up while also improving dynamic flexibility of the involved muscles. The toy soldier stretch is a dynamic stretch that effectively uses several muscles throughout the body, particularly the legs. To perform the stretch, stand tall with your core tight; then, keeping your knee straight, lift your right leg straight out to the front and touch your left hand to your toes. Return to the starting position and repeat the movement with your left leg and right arm. Continue to alternate sides.
The hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus and are the target muscle group for the toy soldier stretch. As you lift your leg upward during the toy soldier stretch, the hamstrings of that leg are elongated resulting in a stretching sensation. While the hamstrings on your moving leg are stretched, the hamstrings on your supporting leg are busy working to stabilize your knee and hip. The toy soldier stretch is ideal for activities that require heavy use of the hamstrings such as running, sprinting, hurdling and kicking.
The hip flexors are made up of two muscles: the iliacus and psoas major, together known as the iliopsoas. Throughout the toy soldier stretch, these muscles are used to flex or lift your legs. Similar to the hamstrings, the side that is not actively working to flex your leg is working just as hard to stabilize your back and hips on the side of your supporting leg.
While these muscles are not stretched during the toy soldier stretch, they are heavily relied on to complete the movement. Your calf, shin, quadriceps and, to some extent, your gluteal muscles are used during the stretch. The gastrocnemeus and soleus muscles of the calf and the anterior tibialis of the shin are used to stabilize your ankle and maintain your balance on your supporting leg. The quadriceps are used to stabilize the knee joint on your supporting leg while working to keep the knee extended on your lifted leg. The gluteal muscles are important for stabilizing the hips throughout the stretch.
While the muscles of your lower body are busy getting a good warm-up, your upper body is not sitting idly by, which makes the toy soldier stretch an effective full-body warm-up exercise. During the stretch, the muscles of your arms and shoulders are used to lift your arm and touch your toe. Your abdominal and back muscles are used to support and slightly twist your torso so that you can touch your hand to the opposite foot.
Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.