Warming Up And Stretching For Any Workout
The Plastic Effect
We’re constantly told to make sure we warm up and stretch before and after workouts, but why is it so important, and does it really make a difference? When should you be stretching? Is there a proper way to do it? This is why we provide you this article Warming Up And Stretching For Any Workout, so you can understand the importance of stretching your muscles.
Our bodies are insanely efficient, and those who push themselves hard know some of the incredible feats it’s capable of. Unfortunately though, it is also very easy to injure yourself if you’re not careful. The easiest way to lower the risk of injury, besides simply doing an exercise properly, is to make sure the body is warmed up and stretched before you start lifting heavy or go sprinting off into the distance.
The plastic effect is an easy analogy for how a muscle responds to warming up and stretching. Just like thin plastic, when a muscle is cooled down and neutral, if you suddenly load it up with weight or have it pulled against resistance, there’s a good chance the plastic or muscle will snap or tear. ‘Cooled’ muscles are more easily damaged, because they may not be prepared to take the force you place on them when working out.
The easiest way to reduce the risk of injury to a muscle is by ‘heating’ it. When plastic is heated and force is applied, it has more give and will stretch and mould the way you want it to. Even better, when plastic is heated and then cooled, it tends to stay in that new stretched position.
The same goes for muscles, when you’ve finished you’re workout, stretching as you cool down stops the muscles from tightening up too much, which decreases stiffness and that delayed muscle soreness you feel in the next day or two after.
There are two basic ways to warm up the body to prepare it for a workout or activity. You can do a dynamic warm up, or you can warm up specific muscles or parts of the body as you go through your workout with a targeted warm up or warm up sets.
When it comes to stretching before a workout, you have to be careful. Stretching itself can also put tension on a muscle and put you more at risk of damage.There are two types of stretching: Static and Dynamic
Dynamic stretching involves more that one muscle pair being used in a smooth movement. A walking lunge is an example of dynamic stretching, because you are using many muscles in both your legs to perform the movement, as well as different muscles in your trunk or ‘core’ to keep you stable as you move. It is a continuous dynamic movement that warms up many muscles at once.
This is the safest and most efficient way to warm up and prep your muscles for a workout. Stringing a series of dynamic exercises together can warm up your entire body in a short period of time, and have you sweating before you’ve even picked up a weight.
An example of a quick 5 minute dynamic warm up might look like this:
- High knees (30 Seconds): Instead of just marching or bouncing from leg to leg, when you lift your leg use your arms to pull your knee up to your chest to stretch it out.
- Extensions (30 seconds x2) and Mountain Climbers (30 seconds x2): Rotate between exercises every 30 seconds for 4 rounds. For extensions, raise one leg and the opposite arm either on the floor or standing up.
- Burpees (30 seconds x2) and Lunges(30 seconds x2): Rotate between exercises every 30 seconds for 4 rounds. For the lunges, do walking lunges to incorporate more muscles.
- High knees (30 Seconds)
The dynamic warm up is best done before your strength training workout, and done without rest so you work up a sweat while you’re doing so.
When you are desperate to skip your warm up, you can simple warm up the muscles you plan to use in a strength exercise by doing that same exercise without weights or with lower weights. Do a warm up set before you start your actual sets, or do a bodyweight exercise that targets the same muscle(s).
Many bodyweight exercises are dynamic movements, so you can also do a quick 30 seconds or set amount of that specific stretch/exercise before you start the strength exercise. This is the only type of warming up that can be incorporated into a workout, because you are warming up for each exercise as you go.
Giving yourself this warm up lets your body get used to performing the movement with those muscles before you add the stress of heavy weights or high impact.
In terms of warming up for cardio, it works the same. If you are running, biking, going on the elliptical, whatever you do you should always start slowly and work up to a higher speed. The slow progression acts as a warm up in itself, and as a bonus, taking the time to move up to a faster speed or a higher intensity stops you from burning out too quickly, and it keeps your heart rate and blood pressure steady while increasing, rather than having it spike, which can be dangerous for your health.
A good interval to use for cardio is 2 minutes. That is roughly how much time it takes your body to adjust to a new speed or intensity, so raising or lowering the intensity slightly every 2 minutes will keep your blood pressure or heart rate from spiking too sharply.
The cool down is just as important as the warm up and is best done after the full work out, and not during or between exercises. With cardio its as simple as doing the warm up in reverse, slowly reducing the speed and intensity to keep the blood pressure and heart rate stable and cool down the body.
In terms of strength training, this is where the static stretching comes in. Static stretching involves usually only one muscle pair being stretched. An example of a static stretch is putting your arm up above your head and folding it back behind your head and neck to stretch your tricep. Only the tricep/bicep muscle pair is being used, and you are simple standing ‘static’ as you hold the stretch.
Isolating muscles and stretching them out is good after they’ve been worked, because as mentioned before, when you’re cooling down a muscle stretching reduces the tightness and promotes smooth growth and repair.
Tight muscles can restrict movement and cause stiffness and soreness, which is something you want to avoid as much as possible. DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (the stiffness and tightness you feel up to 48 hours after a workout) is reduced. Though soreness comes with a sense of accomplishment, so does being able to move the next day after a hardcore workout.
- Muscles are like plastic, breaking easier when they’re cooled and stretching easier when heated.
- Properly warmed up and stretched muscles can reduce the possibility of internal injuries.
- Properly cooled down muscles reduces the effects of delayed soreness and tightness of muscles after a workout.
- Dynamic stretching can be used for the warm up before your workout, and static stretching can be used after your workout for the cool down.