Dynamic movements are the new best friends of achy, tight muscles. These exercises encourage movement through your full range of motion to increase flexibility and mobility. Dynamic movements build functional fitness and help get you nice and warm and ready to work before a training session.
Although dynamic movements help build flexibility, they are unlike static stretches. Static stretching has you hold a stretch for a designated period and may not be the best choice for warming up before a workout. Instead, dynamic movements are active as you move through the movement and more naturally mimic the actions you take during daily life and in your workouts.
Perform dynamic movements before or after a workout, or on your recovery days. You can also take breaks from a sedentary job and do some dynamic exercises to get your blood flowing, release tight muscles, and keep your joints healthy.
Meet the Expert
- Abbey Christie is a fitness instructor.
Safety and Precautions
Dynamic movements are an excellent way to warm up before exercising and are relatively safe to perform. Here are some things to be aware of beforehand.
- Make sure you have enough space to perform the movements. Some dynamic exercises include swings and circles. You don't want to hit anything that could cause pain or damage.
- Don't push past your limits. Unlike static stretching, you shouldn't hold the stretch, and you should avoid pushing past your flexibility limits.
- If you are injured or have joint pain, avoid dynamic movements that aggravate those conditions. Talk to your doctor before performing any exercises.
- Stay hydrated. Water is necessary for the health and safe movement of your joints.
Try these 10 dynamic movements before your next workout or as a mobility session.
"Cat-Cow is a classic yoga flow that gently opens up the posture and activates the core while relieving spinal pressure and soothing back pain," says fitness instructor Abbey Christie.
This movement is perfect after long periods spent sitting to relieve spinal tension and tightness.
Muscles worked: back, abs, shoulders
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Pull your belly button upward and in toward your spine and push the ground away from you, rounding through the back in a big arch (scared cat position).
- Slowly relax your abs and lift your chin and shoulders for a deep stretch, flexing your back into a U-shape (fat cow position).
- Flow through these two poses 8–10 times with a slow and controlled motion as part of your warm-up or mobility routine.
"The frog stretch is one of the best moves for opening up the hips and groin to encourage a deeper range of motion and better glute activation," says Christie.
Try this movement especially in preparation for heavy compound lower-body movements like squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts.
Muscles worked: glutes, hips, abs
- Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position.
- Place your knees wider than hip-distance apart and flex your feet, so your toes are pointing outward with ankles flat on the ground.
- Push your hips back toward your heels, keeping your chest parallel to the ground. Stay here for a few breaths and slowly pull your hips forward, keeping your abs flexed to stabilize your core.
- Bring your hips as far forward as you can, with your feet remaining flat on the ground.
- Repeat this stretch 5–10 times, pausing between direction changes.
"Wall angels are a go-to for any of my clients with postural problems because they open the chest and shoulders, relieving neck pain, and they also strengthen the muscles that hold your perfect posture in place," says Christie.
If you find you cannot keep your shoulder blades or arms against the wall during this move, you'll know you have some work to do on your shoulder mobility. Keep practicing until you can keep in contact with the wall throughout the movement.
Muscles worked: middle back (rhomboids and lower trapezius), rear deltoids, stretches chest and shoulders
- Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet about 8–12 inches in front of you.
- Flex your abs to press the full length of your spine against the wall from tail to shoulders.
- With your palms facing forward by your sides, slide your hands up and around, like a snow angel, keeping your arms straight with wrists, elbows, and shoulders continuously touching the wall.
- Reverse the motion, sliding your straightened arms back down to your sides.
- Remember to relax your shoulders down away from your ears the whole time. You should feel a burn in your shoulders and the center of your back.
- Repeat 15–20 times to activate your postural muscles.
"Plank walk-outs are full of benefits, activating muscles all over your body, stretching your legs and back, and challenging your stability," says Christie.
You'll feel your core engage with this move as well for a full-body warm-up movement. This move is also known as the inchworm.
Muscles worked: abs, shoulders, glutes, quads
- From a standing position, fold forward and reach for the floor with a soft bend in the knees.
- Walk your hands forward one at a time until your hands are under your shoulders and you are in a push-up position.
- Flex your core, quads, and glutes to protect your hips and lower back from drooping.
- Walk your hands back toward your feet, returning to the forward fold position, and stand upright.
- Add 10 reps to your warm-up.
Lunge with Rotation
"Lunges with rotation activate your whole body, improve your balance, strength, and flexibility, and help improve posture," says Christie.
Performing a lunge with rotation is an excellent way to warm up before heavier lunges with a barbell or dumbbells, as well as prior to any heavier lower-body movement or cardio activities like sprinting or running.
Muscles worked: glutes, quads, abs (obliques), shoulders
- From a standing position, take a big step forward with one foot, and bend the knee so that your front knee comes to a 90-degree angle and the back knee is slightly bent and hovering just above the ground.
- At the lowest point of the lunge, open your arms wide toward the same side you stepped forward with.
- Twist open your chest and twist your torso while keeping your hips straight forward.
- Untwist and rewind the movement, straightening the front leg and returning to standing.
- Perform 8–10 reps on each side, alternating every rep.
"Bird dog is an all-level favorite core activation exercise that increases your body awareness and stability in unique ranges of motion," says Christie.
Spine expert Stuart McGill has made the bird-dog famous for relieving and preventing back pain and as an essential exercise for building core stability. Try this on your work break or whenever your back is feeling tight. Performing this movement every day and before a workout is fantastic for those with tight lower backs.
Muscles worked: abs, back, shoulders, glutes
- Beginning on your hands and knees, flex your abs to keep your spine parallel to the floor. Simultaneously reach one straightened arm out in front of you, and kick the opposite leg straight back behind you with your foot flexed up toward your body.
- Lift only until you have created a straight line from your raised hand to your lifted heel, and continue flexing your abs and keeping your eyes on the floor to maintain a neutral spine.
- Return your lifted arm and leg to the tabletop position and repeat with the opposite arm and leg.
- Perform 10 slow and controlled reps, alternating every rep.
"A runner’s lunge offers a deep stretch, and the addition of the knee skip creates explosive power through a full range of motion," says Christie.
Adding an explosive plyometric movement to a runner's lunge will help prepare your central nervous system for heavier loads, especially if you are training for power and explosiveness.
Muscles worked: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves
- Start by taking a giant step back with one leg so that your back leg is nearly straight and your front leg is bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Drop your fingertips to the floor, sinking into a runner’s lunge.
- Swing your back knee up, driving through your front leg into a hop, and dropping the same knee back down into a lunge where you started.
- Perform 10 reps on one side and then 10 reps on the other side.
Side Plank Rotation
"Adding a rotation to your side plank develops core strength and shoulder stability; it can even help with spinal mobility," says Christie.
Aside from being an excellent warm-up exercise, this movement can be added to any core training session.
Muscles worked: full body, core, shoulders, hips
- Start in a side plank position with one elbow on the ground directly beneath the same shoulder.
- Stack your feet and lift your hips off the ground to form one straight line from head to toe.
- Reach as high as you can with the opposite arm, keeping your neutral spine. Scoop that hand down toward the ground and through your elbow and torso.
- Unwind and return to the top again. Keep your core and glutes active to protect your spine.
- Perform 10 reps on one side, then 10 reps on the other side.
Pendulum Hip Flow
"This mobility drill is perfection; it opens the hips, activates the glutes, and does wonders for your active range of motion," says Christie.
This oh-so-good hip mobility drill will help relieve tightness from long periods spent sitting and will get you ready for heavier lifts, runs, rowing, or cycling.
Muscles worked: glutes, hip dips (abductors), inner thigh (adductors), hip flexors, quads, hamstrings
- Start seated on the floor with your legs out in front of you, bent to a 90-degree angle and just wider than your hips.
- Drop both knees to one side and turn to face that direction. Press your hips forward and come up to your knees.
- Swing your back leg around to the front, landing in a kneeling lunge position.
- Press your hips forward and flex your glutes to stretch your hip flexor before reversing the lunge back to your knees, sitting, and bringing your knees and hips to center in the starting position.
- Repeat the sequence in the opposite direction, passing through the center and back to each side like a pendulum in one smooth flow.
- Flow through this 10 times.
"The dolphin push-up is an all-in-one killer move—it opens the chest and ribs, tones the arms and shoulders, stretches the legs, and strengthens the core. Plus, it's pretty simple," says Christie.
You can try this in preparation for lifts such as the bench press, or use it as a standalone exercise—it's plenty challenging on its own!
Muscles worked: strengthens shoulders, abs, arms, and back; stretches glutes, hamstrings, calves, ribs/chest, and lats
- Start in a classic elbow plank position, with your palms flat on the ground and facing forward. Push through your elbows and shoulders, pressing your hips up and back.
- Place as much bend as you need to in the knees to achieve a full extension of your shoulders. Walk your feet a little closer to your hands and just maintain that bend as you press up through your hands into a shortened downward facing dog.
- To finish the movement, lower your elbows back to the floor and pull through your shoulders, returning to your elbow plank.
- If your feet are closer than where you started, leave them in the modified position for the duration of the exercise.
- Flow through this 10 times.