Have you ever pulled a muscle, or tweaked something at the gym, in the field, or on the court? Does it seem as though you are losing your range of motion? If your answer is yes, then you are more than likely not warming up and stretching, not warming up and stretching affectively, or haven’t adopted an appropriate warm up and cool down routine for your activity. It is a common occurrence, because many people are ill advised as to the behavior of their muscular tissue, its limitations, and factors that help or hinder preparing the muscle for exertion and recovery.
Why is warming up before a workout so important?
Warming up your muscles is a very important part of preparing the body for an activity that involves exertion, be it aerobic or anaerobic. Before an activity, and before stretching, it is imperative to warm up the body first. Warming up the body delivers more oxygen, and increases the temperature of the body and muscles, which in turn allows the collagen fibers to become more pliable. Warming up and stretching sets in muscle pliability, and prepares it for movement. Pliability of the muscle during activity is very important, because, just like any other material, too brittle or too stiff when put under pressure, will break or snap.
Please note that you should also ensure you are properly hydrated and have a sufficient amount of energy reserve to perform the activities you have planned. Proper hydration can help joint movement, regulate body temperature, help circulate nutrients, and it also aids in cellular repair. Without proper hydration, you could experience cramping, nausea, and you will tire more quickly.
Warming up and cooling down
Key terms to understand
Essentially, there are three different types of stretching: static, ballistic and dynamic.
Static: The gradual lengthening of a muscle, followed by holding the stretch for several seconds.
Ballistic: The use of momentum by swinging your limbs, to stretch muscle groups, or bouncing your body weight on a certain muscle group. This method, although effective, is considered to have some risk associated with it, as it can potentially to lead to tearing or overstretching.
Dynamic: Is a combination of the two, where as you do not swing or bounce, nor do you hold a position, but rather move in and out of a stretch with fluid motion. I find dynamic stretching to be most beneficial for running or an aerobic activity.
Steps to help you warm up, stretch, and cool down
Please note that what follows is what I have discovered works for me, and appears to be the most beneficial way to prepare for activity. This is from years of experience and personal research. You should always listen to your body first, and let it tell you what feels right. If you have special needs, please consult a doctor before proceeding. Here are some basic steps to help you understand how you should warm up and stretch:
Step 1: Warming up
You can do this by running in place or taking a light jog, jumping rope, doing 3-5 sun salutations (yoga), or jumping jacks, to name a few. I think you get the idea. The purpose of this is to elevate your breathing and metabolic rate slightly, thus increasing circulation and body heat.
Step 2: Pre-activity stretching (optional)*
If you are going to be doing resistance training (anaerobic), you can perform a series of static, ballistic, or dynamic stretches for only the muscle group(s) you are going to be working on.
If you are going to be doing an aerobic activity, I would recommend performing a mix of dynamic and ballistic stretches for the muscle groups you will be utilizing. For this type of activity, it is at times more beneficial to stretch the major muscle groups of your entire body prior to activity, because in aerobic activity, you are more apt to engage multiple muscle groups (compound exercise).
Step 3: During activity stretching
During anaerobic or aerobic activity, your muscles may become fatigued. To help maintain performance, I would recommend a combination of any of the three types of stretches, in between exertion. Light massaging, and shaking of the limbs is also recommended, as it will help loosen the muscles and allow blood to flow freely into the muscle tissue.
Step 4: Post activity stretching
Here is where I would recommend only doing static stretching. Static stretching helps to realign the muscle fibers, and calms your body, which prepares the body for recovery. It also helps to calm your mind, slow your heart rate, redistribute blood, flush lactic acid, and prevent pooling in the limbs.
Additionally, you should know that rest is just as important as working out, or stretching, or having a good diet plan. All these things are puzzle pieces that fit together to form a well rounded, and healthy body and mind. So be sure to take some down time and take of your body. Remember, it’s the only one you have.
*There is no definitive evidence that stretching before an activity is beneficial. However, it is widely accepted to warm up the body prior to activity. I perform some basic stretches after warming up and before an exercise, as a means of checking in with my body. Doing this is like taking an inventory of how my body feels. Then I know what parts are working well, and what parts need to be cared for during an activity. Listen to your body and let it tell you what it needs.
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