Depending on your intended context, there are at least two categories of dynamic exercises you can do. But all types of dynamic exercise involve movement and thus help prepare your body for various types of real-world movement.
Examples of Dynamic Stretches
One of the most common types of "dynamic" movement is dynamic stretches: Think movements like leg swings, knee grabs and arm circles, which you might do to help warm your body up for a challenging workout. Other examples include shoulder rolls, hip circles, side-to-side reaches (overhead or with rotation), butt kicks, high knees and side lunges (moving from one side to another, not holding at a single side).
However, this type of dynamic stretch shouldn't be confused with old-fashioned ballistic stretching, in which you reach out for a stretch and then bounce repeatedly at the end of that range of motion. As noted in the February 2012 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy (IJSPT), ballistic stretching is no longer recommended because it increases the risk of injury.
Is dynamic stretching better than static stretching, in with you hold your stretch at the end of the range of motion (without bouncing)? That's a question the sports science community has been grappling with for decades now, and the results are sometimes contradictory. For example, as noted in the IJSPT article, both static and dynamic stretching appear to be equally effective for improving range of motion.
However, there is no consensus about how these two types of stretching improve physical performance during exercise. A systematic review published in a November 2019 issue of Frontiers in Physiology suggests that long-term static stretching (holding the stretch for longer than 60 seconds) can impair subsequent athletic performance.
But the authors also note that when compared to dynamic stretching, short-term static stretching (holding the stretch for less than 60 seconds) does not create perceptible impairments for the everyday individual. Whether there's a notable difference for highly competitive athletes remains an open question.
Read more: Static Back Stretches
Dynamic Movement in Resistance Training
Another example of dynamic exercises comes from weightlifting or resistance training. If you contract a muscle without causing movement in your body, that's known as an isometric contraction. As the Mayo Clinic explains, that's a viable means of strengthening that muscle at that joint angle.
By comparison, any time you work your muscles through a range of motion using extra resistance, you're doing a dynamic exercise. At its simplest, that "dynamic" label simply means there is motion involved.
As noted in an article for the USA Triathlon Team, the principle of specificity dictates that your body adapts to the stresses it's subjected to — or, to put it another way, your body gets better at what you train it to do. So if there's something you want to accomplish that involves movement, choosing dynamic exercises that approximate that movement will help you prepare to achieve your goal.
Adding more difficult dynamic exercises into your workout is a way of challenging your body to continue building strength and power, too — although you should always build up gradually to any new exercise goal.
In an article on developing athletic power, exercise researchers Rob Tapia and Len Kravitz, PhD, with the University of New Mexico recap common types of dynamic exercises. These include:
- Traditional resistance training, in which you accelerate or push the weight against gravity and then decelerate the weight as you return to the starting position.
- Ballistic exercises, in which the movement pattern is accelerated through the entire range of motion until the point of takeoff or release of the object being thrown.
- Plyometric exercises, a subset of ballistic exercises that are performed with little to no external resistance and focus on first loading the muscles in question in a stretched position and then exploding into the ballistic movement.
When using traditional strength-training apparatus to train dynamic strength, example exercises include squats, bench presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions and so on. These exercises can involve free weights or weight machines.
Ballistic exercises are typically classed as having external resistance — for example, medicine ball throws. Kettlebells, weighted clubs and the like are often grouped in this category as well.
And finally, examples of plyometric exercises include jump squats, jumping rope, hopping, bounding and clapping push-ups.
- International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy: "Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation"
- University of New Mexico: "Peak Power for Your Clients"
- USA Triathlon Team: "7 Principles of Exercise and Sport Training"
- Mayo Clinic: "Are Isometric Exercises a Good Way to Build Strength?"
- Frontiers in Physiology: "Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats"