How to Use Stretching as a Safe Part of Your Warmup
Suffering any injury can put a dent in your training program, but getting one that is debilitating can put you on the sidelines for quite a while. Warming up first before getting into the main part of your exercise program is the best way to reduce your chances of an injury. And part of any good warm-up program should include stretching.
Stretching does a couple of things for you. First, it prepares the muscles flexibility-wise for what is to come later – working them out. Second, it helps get the blood flowing so the waste generated by the muscle cells during the workout can be carried away and more fresh oxygenated blood can get into the muscles.
While there are five different stretching methods, most fitness professionals agree dynamic stretching is the best one to do before a workout. With dynamic stretching, muscles that will come into play during the workout are worked through their full range of motion, but not held in the extended position for any length of time as they are with static stretching. The key to dynamic stretching is to keep moving in a controlled manner – no bouncing of muscles!
As noted dynamic stretching should be part of a warm-up program, but where exactly in the program should it be placed? Cold muscles should never be stretched. That is like taking a cold rubber band and stretching it as far as it will go. Either it will break at the far end of the stretch or at the least it will not return to its original shape. Muscles are the same way.
So, the stretching part of your warm-up program should come after the 5 minutes or so of cardio you do at the beginning of your warm-up.
There isn’t a standard dynamic stretching program as it is dependent on the type of workout for that day. Most fitness experts suggest doing a few intervals at low intensity of the exercises that will follow. For example, if bodyweight training with weights is your chosen workout for that day, gently do some lunges without weight for your lower body.
Major Muscle Groups
If your particular workout for the day focuses on lower body, there is a tendency to work that area and forget about the upper body. That is a mistake. A good stretching program includes all major muscle groups first and then focus on specific muscle groups as related to the workout.
Dynamic stretching must be part of a good warm-up program to reduce the risk of injury. Smart stretching not only keeps the joints flexible but prepares the body for a safe workout.
5 Rules for Safe Stretching
Stretching increases the flexibility of muscles thus reducing the risk of injury. However, if not done properly, stretching itself can cause an injury. With these rules, your stretching can be both safe and effective.
1) Stretch warm muscles
Like a rubber band, muscles stretch and return to their neutral state better if they are warmed up first. This means stretching should be done after your pre-workout warm-up and before your post-workout cool-down. Some people tend to forego their warm-up routines and go right to stretching. Without a warm-up first, cold muscles are more susceptible to injury.
2) Do it slowly
You see it all the time at the gym. People extending their muscles to the fully extended position as fast as they can. This is called bouncing and is another way of pushing you into the injury danger zone by accidently extending a muscle farther than it was meant to stretch. The result? You guessed it – a sprain, strain or even major tear.
Instead slowly, gently and smoothly stretch the muscle just to the point where you feel tension in it. If dynamically stretching, hold the stretch for only 2 or 3 seconds before relaxing it; if stretching statically hold for up to 30 seconds.
3) Breathe normally
For some reason, people tend to hold their breath while in a stretch. This tightens up your muscles and is counterproductive to what you are trying to do – loosen things up. You will get more out of your stretching routine if you exhale on the stretch and inhale on the return. Yoga is good for stretching in that it also teaches you how to breathe properly when exercising.
4) Use the full range of motion
The purpose of stretching is to increase the flexibility of a muscle. To get the full benefit, it is necessary to slowly stretch the muscle out to the point of where you feel tension or mild discomfort, hold and return to its relaxed state. Not pushing it to its farthest point of extension does not derive the full benefit of doing a stretching program and will not result in getting full flexibility from that joint.
5) Stretch smart
Keep in mind there is not a standard stretching routine that will fit everyone needs. For example, a person with a shoulder injury will want to avoid shoulder stretches until the injured muscle is healed.
Stretching is the key to staying flexible and reducing the risk of injury, which can take you off your training program for a long time. Use these five rules to stretch safe while at the same time increasing flexibility.