We know we should stretch before we exercise but all too often we either rush through a few quick stretches or we just launch into our exercise routine without giving our bodies that all important warm-up time. Visit any fitness website and the advice is unwavering – stretching before exercise is vital to decrease the risk of injury.
Taking your body through a thorough stretch is important for a number of reasons:
Firstly, it decreases the risk of injury as you are more likely to tweak or pull a muscle, tear a tendon or injure a joint if you rush into your exercise without taking time to stretch properly.
Secondly, if you don’t stretch, you may well find that you tire quicker as your muscles were simply not ready for the work load you put them under. If you go for a run without a stretch first, for example, you may find it harder to sustain the pace.
And thirdly, taking your body through its stretch routine, is a way of mentally preparing for exercise as well as physical preparation.
When you warm-up, you are helping the blood flow to all the muscles you will shortly be using. Taking time to stretch also releases synovial fluid which lubricate the joints and reduces the impact of exercise. A warm-up also helps your heart rate gradually increase, so it is ready for exercise and quickly finds a rhythm.
How to stretch and warm-up effectively
Start with an activity that raises your heart rate gradually: brisk walking, a gently jog, a light cycle. Continue this for five minutes or so.
Do some dynamic stretches. Unlike a static stretch that you hold for 30 seconds or longer, dynamic stretches move your muscles in a controlled manner through a range of motion.
Example 1: Step lunge
Stand with legs shoulder-width apart, in a parallel position, ensuring you maintain a good neutral posture. Bend the left knee and lunge forward onto your right foot. Go as far as you are comfortable ensuring the right knee doesn’t bend past the toes. Try to keep the hips ‘square’, without collapsing onto one side or the other. Then straighten the back leg (without locking the knee). Increase the stretch to the extent you feel comfortable by lowering the hips. Engage the throughout as it will help protect the lower back. Hold for a couple of seconds and then step forward into a lunge with the other leg. Repeat so you are ‘walking’ forwards in low lunging movements.
Example 2: Butt kick
Stand tall and bend the right knee behind you, bringing your heel as close to your gluteus (bum) as possible. Hold for three seconds and then repeat on left. Do about 20 in total.
Example 3: Straight legged walk ( Plantar Flexor stretch)
Keep your hands on your hips and lift the left leg slightly off the ground, ensuring the knee is straight and aligned with the leg. Point the toes straight out in line with the knee, and then reverse this flexion by pointing the toes upward, and then return to your starting position. Repeat this on your right leg, and then move forwards using this straight leg movement for about 20 repetitions.
Once you have done a series of dynamic stretches, you should be ready to start your exercise programme. However, it is worth doing a mental check list – have you engaged the muscle groups you are going to be working? Do your muscles feel as if they have had a sufficient amount of stretch applied? Does your cardiovascular (heart and lungs) system feel ready to get going. Take these few moments to do any last minute preparations – your body will thank you for the extra moments spent getting to a state of maximum readiness.
For more information on how to stretch effectively, talk to one of our knowledgable staff in the Outlooks Gym.