Is arm circles a Ballistic Stretching Exercise?

Is Arm Circles a Ballistic Stretching Exercise?

Since I read Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon by Jack Daniels, it took me a while to embrace the idea of ballistic stretching, also called dynamic stretching. This method is controversial, and many people think it has no place in their arsenal.

When making such an extreme change in my exercise routine, I felt it necessary to do some research before starting. Quite soon enough, I found out that arm circles are NOT considered ballistic or dynamic because there is not sufficient range of motion involved for them to be considered so.

“Dynamic warm-up exercises should mimic movements used in athletic activities to optimize performance.”

And since one would never swing his arms back and forth when running, arm circles don’t seem to pass the test.

I would add that it also depends on how ballistic stretching is defined in this particular context:

“A ballistic stretch is one where the muscle being stretched forcibly contracts to increase the range of motion at a joint (e.g., bouncing down repeatedly to touch your toes.) Ballistic stretches rely on momentum and gravity rather than a gradual progression to force muscles to lengthen.”

Is arm circles a Ballistic Stretching Exercise? 2

What Happens if you Stretch your Arms too Much??

In a yin yoga class I attended recently, we performed the following pose:

Hastapadasana seemed appropriate for this blog post because it is a version of Upward-Facing Dog where the arms are stretched back and overhead rather than forward as in Downward-Facing Dog.

The action was a downward-facing dog but with one’s arms pulled back over the head, reaching for one’s feet (or toes). It might sound like an easy stretch at first. After all, we raise our arms above our heads quite often during the day – usually when yawning.

However, if you try it yourself right now by reaching for your toes and you will feel the difference: this stretch is genuinely intense and requires a fair amount of flexibility in your shoulders.

When I was in this pose, I felt my fingers stretching far beyond their normal range, and for a brief moment, it did not feel like my arm was attached to my shoulder (although not in a good way).

After the teacher took us out of the pose, I had an ‘aha’ moment – if such a crazy stretch can cause discomfort, imagine what overstretching could do! Now, whenever I perform arm circles, which I don’t often do because other drills would help me better prepare for running, but whenever I do them, I feel that same feeling at the bottom of my ribs where one arm swings back and forth.

It feels a bit uncomfortable at first, but I am usually able to stretch beyond the discomfort and feel the rib cage opening up – of course, mindful of not pushing too much since this is not supposed to be a ballistic stretch.

In conclusion, although arm circles are not considered ballistic stretching, I have sufficient reasons to avoid them or limit their usage based on my own experience of feeling slightly ‘off’ afterward (although it’s like with everything: your mileage may vary).

The bottom line is that overstretching should be avoided if we wish our muscles and joints to work as they were meant to.

And now, I leave you with one of my favorite quotes about stretching:

“The best stretch is the one we never do. If we knew which one was the best, all of us would be doing it, and there is not enough time in a lifetime to do them all.”

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What type of exercise is arm circles?

“Arm circles are a common calisthenics exercise, usually performed as part of a warm-up,” which means that it is considered dynamic stretching. In this context, dynamic stretching implies momentum involved for the stretch to be considered static versus ballistic. Here is how wiki defines those two types:

“In static stretching, the muscle group is activated and stretched simultaneously. For example, one might bring one’s arms up overhead to touch one’s toes while standing.”

“In ballistic stretching, a limb is propelled rapidly and forcefully into a stretched position.”

What does ballistic stretching mean?

“Ballistic stretching is a form of stretching in which the practitioner uses mainly momentum and force generated by the own body to stretch a muscle or tendon, thereby significantly shortening the active (or stretched) phase of a stretch. This technique can be dangerous and painful and is generally discouraged for general use.”

Here you can find a helpful tutorial on how to do arm circles: Arm Circles

The purposes of warm-up exercises are to prepare muscles, joints, and tendons for exertion; increase heart rate; raise core temperature; expand blood vessels (and thus oxygen supply), and eliminate waste products such as lactic acid. Warm-up drills also reduce muscle strain by helping them develop motor units more effectively before activity.

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