Static stretching—you know, the type where you bend over and hold your hands by your toes—isn't just boring. Studies show that long-held stretches before workouts may make your training less effective—or worse, put you at greater risk for injury.
One such study concluded, "there is moderate to strong evidence that routine application of static stretching does not reduce overall injury rates," while a review of 104 different studies found that static stretching has a negative impact on strength, power and explosive muscular performance, and using it as the sole activity of a warm-up routine should "generally be avoided." Translation: Static stretching doesn't reduce the risk of injury and frequently has a negative impact on athletic performance.
So if static stretching is out, how should you warm up?
We're glad you asked. A wide variety of warm-up alternatives to static stretching exist, most of which fall into the category of "dynamic stretching" or "dynamic warm-ups."
Static stretching involves elongating the muscle and holding a position for 30 seconds to two minutes while the body remains at rest, whereas dynamic stretching involves performing a stretch by moving through "a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly."
Not only is dynamic stretching more fun, it's also more effective. It's been found to increase athletic performance better than static stretching, and performing a 10- to 20-minute dynamic warm-up before exercise could cut your injury risk in half.
With that in mind, here are six types of warm-ups that are more fun and more effective than static stretching.
1. Jump Rope
Jumping rope isn't exactly a cutting-edge exercise, but it really is one of the best forms of cardio and coordination training an athlete can do. Plus, it makes you feel like Rocky.
Jumping rope involves almost every major muscle group in the body, and its constant movement gets your blood pumping and your heart rate going in a hurry. It also primes your body to perform plyometric, explosive movements, which are crucial for almost any form of athletic training.
It's effective, too. A jump rope warm-up was found to increase power and jumping ability in track & field athletes.
The coordination involved in jumping rope can also give you a mental warm-up.
Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson jumps rope to warm up for his MMA-inspired workouts.
About five minutes of moderate intensity jump-roping should be enough to get your blood flowing and your muscles firing. If you want to spice things up, throw in variations like one-foot jumps.
2. Perform a Box-Based Dynamic Warm-Up
If you're looking for a dynamic warm-up that will get your blood pumping through a wide variety of movements, look no further.
The 7-Minute Dynamic Warm-Up shown above comes from performance coach Ben Rossi of ATP Evolution. It includes movements like Backpedals, Shuffles, Lunges, Sprints and High Knees, all of which are performed in a variety of directions around a box of cones.
This warm-up is thorough but time-efficient, which makes it great if you're looking to get ready fast prior to a demanding workout.
3. Go Old-School with Jumping Jacks
Similar to jumping rope, Jumping Jacks have seemingly been around since the dawn of time.
But don't mistake longevity as a sign of ineffectiveness. Jumping Jacks are a dynamic stretch that hits nearly every major muscle group and elevates your heart rate. Like jumping rope, Jumping Jacks are a plyometric movement that primes your body for explosive training.
Jumping Jacks look simple, but they require you to move your lower body and upper body in harmony over and over again. Since many people think Jumping Jacks are simple, they might fly through them while giving little or no thought to their form. A proper Jumping Jack puts your body through a wide range of motion, and your hands touch above your head.
Pro Bowl receiver Marques Colston uses Jumping Jack variations to warm up for his workouts.
Start your warm-up with 50 Jumping Jacks before moving on to a couple of dynamic stretches like Bodyweight Squats or Inchworms for a short-but-effective warm-up.
4. Get Wild With an Animal-Inspired Warm-Up
Guess what? Warming up doesn't have to be boring!
A wide variety of dynamic stretches are fun, challenging and effective, and many of them have animal names.
Crab Walks, Inchworms, Bear Crawls, Scorpions, Duck Walks—it seems that nearly every dynamic warm-up includes at least one stretch with an animal name.
If you're looking to unleash your inner beast, a warm-up consisting solely of "animal" movements will definitely do the trick.
Try out STACK's "Animal-Style" Warm-Up routine if you're looking for a fun way to change things up. Making animal noises during your warm-up is not required, but we're certainly not against it!
5. Wear a Weighted Vest for Increased Performance
While you might think that hitting the weights should come after your warm-up, throwing on a light weighted vest during a dynamic warm-up can lead to an increase in athletic performance.
At least two different studies found that wearing a light weighted vest during a dynamic warm-up can lead to an increase in performance. The dynamic warm-ups included movements like Heel Kicks, Speed Skips, High Knees and Straight Leg Skips.
Both studies found that wearing a light weighted vest (weighing between 2 and 10% of an athlete's body weight) during a dynamic warm-up led to increased Long Jump and Vertical Jump performance when compared to a static stretching warm-up or the same dynamic warm-up performed without the weight vest.
6. Hop on a Stationary Bike
If you're at the gym, chances are you're surrounded by stationary bikes. They can provide a great leg-burning cardio workout, but they can also be used to warm up.
Riding a stationary bike is great for warming up the muscles in your lower body, and riding it with low to moderate intensity is enough to increase your heart rate and blood flow.
It doesn't take much time to reap the benefits of a stationary bike warm-up. Simply ride at about 60 to 70 percent intensity for 5 to 10 minutes and you should feel the effects. Follow this up with a couple of quick dynamic movements—such as Bodyweight Squats—and you'll be ready for action.
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