Warmup & Stretching
During a workout we can all go from zero to hero and push hard but the safe way to train is to bring the body’s temperature up slowly and loosen up the muscles before we get to do anything serious. That’s what warmups are designed to do. Stretching, on the other hand, is done in order to improve overall flexibility. Once muscles have worked they are at their most compliant state and they let us stretch further than we normally would gaining more ground while we are at it.
Timing: We start with a warmup and then we finish our training session with stretching.
Warmups are critical to a better performance and fewer injuries but stretching is somewhat of an optional extra - we can do it, we should do it but not doing it will not cause any issues, most times. Warmups
Most warmups don’t take very long, just two-three minutes or so. To benefit us the most a warmup should work the same muscles we will be engaging during the main workout - they should include lighter exercises or a toned down version of the training ahead. Examples
If you are a runner, your best warmup is a light jog.
If you are doing martial arts training a warmup should also include a few light kicks and punches.
If you are doing bodyweight workouts basic body (neck, arms, torso, legs) rotations will get your blood flowing.
With bodyweight training we can do without an actual warmup if we use one of the sets to warmup and get into it, moving at a slower pace, jumping lower and moving slower.
The temperature of when and where you workout plays a difference. In winter our body keeps most of the blood flow away from our extremities so warming up will take longer. In summer with higher ambient temperatures, the body is already half-warmed up and our muscles are loose. Many Olympic athletes tend to ‘chase the sun’ for that reason training in Australia and California so they spend all year in a summer environment. Stretching
Everyone can get flexible if they work at it. Some people have a natural gift for flexibility others have to struggle to gain every little bit but everyone can get there. It takes persistence and regular training and the muscles adapt and respond.
The best time to stretch is post-workout when our muscles are completely relaxed, thoroughly warmed up and capable of giving us the most stretch, easiest. When muscles are really well warmed up they exhibit a high degree of plasticity. That means that not only do they stretch but after stretching and cooling down they maintain an increased range of movement and display greater flexibility.
This is the reason why everyone should stretch: range of movement. Whether you are a boxer or a ballet dancer your sport will necessitate your muscles performing by working through a range of motion. Muscles that are tight and constricted tend to work against each other to perform the move. That means that energy which should be used in the move itself is actually soaked up by fighting against the muscles themselves and the supporting muscle groups. This leeches away power.
Obviously boxers and ballet dancers do different types of stretching and focus on different muscle groups but they stretch for the same reasons. Stretching Pre or Post workout
When we stretch pre-workout muscle temperature is low and we have done nothing to warm up. So we are trying to force muscles that are stiff and tight to extend their range of motion. When forced this can cause microtears in the muscle itself which result in instability when performing and studies have shown that this can lead to injuries.
When we stretch post-workout our muscles are tired and they are thoroughly warmed up. Tired muscles have a lower relaxation point so they will stretch further with passive stretching, i.e. when an external force is applied on them, like when you are stretching with a partner who helps you get your thigh to your chest by pushing your leg against it while you are lying flat on your back. They will also stretch further with active stretching, where you use your body’s momentum and the movement of your limbs to make your muscles stretch.
Studies have shown that when your muscles are warmed up and you hold a stretch position for up to 30 seconds you can significantly increase your range of motion. This allows your body to increase its power without having to increase muscle mass.
By using a warmup before you exercise and a stretching routine after your workout you succeed in helping your muscles perform better, be more resilient, generate more power and be less prone to injury. These are all gains which help you achieve more with less effort and better results.
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