A soccer player swinging his legs on the sidelines just after his pregame warm-up is stretching dynamically, or actively. Dynamic stretching differs from static, or passive, stretching in that it’s a series of movements that mirror the activity at hand. Unlike static stretches, which are usually part of a cool down, dynamic stretches aren’t meant to improve flexibility. Rather, performing dynamic stretches just before a workout or sport serves to enhance your performance in that activity.
Leg swings, or leg kicks, stretch your inner and outer thigh muscles, hips, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps. Performance of sports that require you to kick, such as soccer, gymnastics or martial arts, can benefit from leg swings. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lift one foot off the ground, keeping your weight in the heel of your supporting foot. Slowly and with control, swing your leg forward, back under your body and behind you in a single smooth movement. Keep your upper body steady. Each swing should take your leg closer to its full range of motion. Switch sides, then switch directions, swinging each leg out to the side, back to the center and across the midline of your body.
Walking lunges stretch nearly all of your leg muscles: hips, quads, hamstrings and calves. You can perform them prior to a resistance training workout that includes static lunges. Place your hands on your hips. Step one foot forward, bending your front leg as you lower your back knee toward the floor. Don’t let your front knee extend past your toes and don’t allow your back knee to touch the floor. Center your weight over your front heel and without pausing press yourself back to a standing position. Step your back foot through to the front, effectively switching sides. Keep your walking lunges fluid and make proper form your priority.
Side lunges stretch your hip and inner thighs. Sports such as baseball, which require lunging and reaching for the ball, benefit from dynamic side lunges prior to play. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your waist. Keep your toes pointing straight ahead — don’t turn either foot out. Step one leg out to the side, bending its knee as you straighten the other leg. Don’t allow your knee to go past your toes. Center your weight over the heel of your lunging leg. Keep your feet in a wide stance and recenter your upper body, shifting your weight back to both feet as you straighten out the lunge. Shift your weight to the other side. Alternate sides fluidly, without pausing or holding any one position.
Standing toe pointers alternatively stretch your calves and the muscles along your shins. This stretch is beneficial before a sport that includes vertical jumps, such as basketball, or before a weight-training session that includes heel raises. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your weight over your heels. Lift one foot a few inches off the floor. Alternate between pointing your toes to stretch your anterior tibialis muscle along the front of your shin, and bringing your toes toward your shin to stretch your calf. Keep the movement fluid and controlled. Perform the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds on each side.