Improve your performance and prevent injury by making time for your warm-ups and cool-downs!
If you are trying to fit a quick workout into your busy day, what is the first thing you usually cut out? Is it the warm-up or the cool-down? No, no, no! Jumping into a workout cold — whether you’re running, swimming, circuit training, or lifting — can lead to both minor and major injuries. Finishing a workout without a few cool down stretches can also inhibit your recovery and prompt extra tightness and soreness for the next couple of days. Below is a breakdown of why you should stretch before and after your workout as well as some example stretches.
Take an extra 5-10 minutes before you start your workout to include some warm-up stretches. Whether you are a morning or an evening warrior, your body is not primed for exercise yet. Your muscles are cold and tight. Warm them up! Some quick stretches will increase the blood flow in your body and muscles, which will prepare them for the workload ahead. It also will help increase your range of motion. Think of a rubber band that you have kept in the freezer all night. If you pull it out of the freezer and immediately stretch it to its maximum length, it will probably break or tear. But, if you stretch it apart little by little with tiny bounces, you will be able to stretch it to its maximum length without any breaks. Similarly, your muscles need a little warning to help increase your flexibility and improve your performance.
Dynamic stretching is the way to go before a workout. You want to keep your movements fluid. Do not hold a stretch for more than 10 seconds. Instead, keep it moving. You want to focus on the muscles that you will primarily be using. For example, if you are all set to go on your run, start with a some butt kickers, jogging in place, and leg swings. You will notice that the first few minutes of your run do not hurt nearly as bad as breaking out into a run from zero. If you are planning for an upper body lift at the gym, try arm swings, spinal rotations, and jumping jacks.
After you finish a strenuous workout, you want to keep the body moving just a little bit longer. Another 5-10 minutes should be sufficient to help relax your muscles back to their resting state. After a workout, your muscles will be tight and tired. You can reduce your chance of prolonged tightness, soreness, and potential injury if you give your body the chance to gradually cool down. You may have noticed that when marathon runners or sprinters finish their race, they do not immediately sit down. Instead, they incrementally decrease their movement. They cross the finish line, transition from a run into a walk, and then they eventually sit down and begin stretching out their tight legs.
This is where static stretching comes into play. Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. Do not overstretch. Stop where your body naturally stops and breathe into it. You will be able to stretch a little deeper by the end of the 20 seconds. This is a sign that your muscles are relaxing. Similar to your warm-up stretches, focus on the muscles that you just worked. After a run, stretch your hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors with runners pose, toe touches, and pigeon pose. Or after an upper body lift, you can implement the overhead tricep stretch, neck stretch, cross-body shoulder stretch, and child's pose. See how your body responds over the next couple of days. I bet you will experience far less soreness and an overall increase in your body's range of motion!