Getting fit is largely a matter of the details such as training consistently, utilizing a program that will meet your specific goals, eating the right foods in the right amounts, proper supplementation and getting plenty of quality sleep.
Common sense, right? Perhaps, but even still there are two important disciplines for fitness success that are often neglected: warming up and stretching.
Unfortunately this happens in almost every fitness facility, park or place of workout in the country on a daily basis. It’s a mistake that generally happens because people do not understand their importance for making gains and avoiding injuries.
A warm up prior to a strenuous workout will also lend itself to a better performance while stretching afterwards will improve overall flexibility, reduce muscle soreness and facilitate recovery. It is not difficult, takes little time and if someone is serious about their health and fitness they will make the time to do both.
A lot of warming up and stretching movements are similar and sopeople assume they both do the same thing. While both have their place, they are different activities which provide different benefits.
Warm Up: Not to Be Confused with Stretching
“Warming up” is exactly that–preparing the body for the exercises to come.
You are elevating your body’s core temperature, helping the body to deliver more oxygen to the muscles, enhancing the entire cardiovascular system to deliver nutrients and carry away waste products and benefiting the nervous system before proceeding to the more strenuous work. Clearing the way for the body to read and receive nerve impulses is especially beneficial for high-skill exercises such as Olympic lifts or any other dynamic exercises. The warm up is not complicated and usually the simpler the better.
A proper warm up has stages. The first stage is very basic low level activity such as riding a stationary bike, light jogging, rowing, jumping rope or calisthenics. All we are attempting to do is increase blood flow and elevate the heart rate, core temperature and breathing. How long? Well, that depends–on the person, on the workout and on the weather. If it’s August and you live in Florida it’s not going to take very much. If it’s January and you live in Alaska it might take up to 15 minutes. Some days it takes the body longer to respond especially if you had a hard workout the day before or a poor nights sleep. The general rule I use is to break a light sweat and have my breathing slightly challenged.
The second stage of the warm is general joint/muscle mobility–a more dynamic warm up. There are many ways to this. It can be as simple as an old school bodyweight circuit consisting of squats, push ups, pull ups, sit up and back extensions, some pvc pipe work or for the more advanced the Burgener warm up http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/53_06_Burgener_Warmup.pdf . All we are trying to accomplish in this stage is to get the joints and muscles going through a full range of motion, fire up the nervous system and prepare the body for higher intensity work.
The third stage is moving on to specific joint and muscle mobility. This would be the use of foam rollers/lacrosse balls and specific mobility drills to open you up and allow you to perform better. Examples can be seen here: http://www.mobilitywod.com/
The fourth or final stage of the warm up would specific movement prep. That would be warming up with the exercises you’re going to be doing. For example if it were a heavy back squat day you would begin with light weights for the first few sets. This is nothing more than common sense–the lighter weights will allow you to concentrate on the proper form and set up a pattern for when the weight gets heavier and prepares the body for the work ahead. How light should the sets be? Again, that depends on the individual and the day. If one has a history of shoulder or hip problems it may take a few more sets with an empty or lighter bar before one feels adequately prepared to advance the load. You can start too heavy but you can never start too light.
Stretching Do’s and Don’ts
While you are working out, stretching the muscles involved between sets will make the next set easier and better. This simple act of stretching a muscle that has been worked vigorously will help to remove lactic acid and make the muscle more prepared for the next set. This concept applies to whatever movement you are doing.
After your workout is finished is the best time to do the majority of your stretching. It will help alleviate muscle soreness and facilitate recovery along with steady progress. With the muscles warm and full of blood they are most receptive. A failure to stretch will have those muscles tightening up and possibly cramping especially when one returns to a sitting or inactive position.
The best type of stretching post workout is that of static stretching. This consists of placing the body part in a stretched position and holding it there for a length of time. Some sources recommend 20 seconds. I personally prefer and find it more beneficial to hold for 45 seconds to a full minute. This should be done gently, not hurt and never be forced.
Flexibility is a tremendous asset in every sport as well as activities of daily. In addition regular stretching can help soothe the nerves and calm the mind; in today’s technology laden world this is always a good thing. Warming up properly will lead to a better workout and being more flexible aids in the recuperation process.
Both are free! All you have to supply is a little bit of time for a huge return.
I call that a good deal.