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Warming Up and Stretching

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Many common exercise injuries stem from overlooking two basics:

Warm-up and stretching.

Take a closer look...

Yoga stretches for warming up and stretching

Warm-Up

Before you get started, your blood flow is not what it's going to be. If you're exercising in the morning, blood flow and body temperature are at their daily low. The idea of a warm-up is to swing your body into gear gradually -- not suddenly.

A good warm-up consists of slow, deliberate, rhythmic movements -- such as very light bend-and-back movements for waist, arms, legs, and more. Keep it up for five minutes to increase your blood flow gradually. This is called warm-up because it actually makes your muscles warm!

Stretch

After the warm-up, stretch. Why not first? A warm muscle stretches better than a cold one. Like the warm-up, this session should be lightly paced. Focus on each group of muscles you will use in your workout -- head, neck, back, arms, shoulders, pelvis, upper legs, lower legs, and feet. You need to loosen up muscles, and focus on range of motion.

A good stretch lengthens muscle fibers. Long, loose fibers are less vulnerable to injury during exercise. For specific stretches targeted for your activity, consult your trainer, coach, or exercise specialist.

Six rules that make stretching really work:

  1. Relax. New research shows that people with little flexibility can be very limber when they're under anesthesia. Now, some scientists believe that total relaxation may help people loosen up under normal conditions. Use any technique that helps you relax, such as visualization or background music.
  2. Go slowly. Adequate stretching takes time and does not come from fast movements or rushed sessions.
  3. Think static. If you were ever advised to bounce when you stretch, erase the memory. Today, experts agree that stretch-and-hold is the right approach. A hold should be at least 30 seconds.
  4. No pain. When you're deciding how far to reach, remember that pain is not healthy. Stop at the point that's just before pain. If it hurts, back off a notch. Try to go a tiny bit further tomorrow.
  5. Stretch daily. Even if you don't do your workout every day, take a few minutes to warm-up and stretch. Daily attention helps you stay limber.
  6. Stretch again. During your workout, it's OK to stop and stretch again, when your muscles are even warmer. A good time: when you're shifting from one muscle group to another, or one activity to another.

Body Stretches If you're starting a new routine or joining forces with a new exercise machine, devote extra attention to your stretch. This may be a time when you're most prone to injury, because you may use a muscle differently -- or more intensively.

Finally, don't abuse your muscles. Over-aggressive stretching can actually bring on microtrauma, which is a tiny amount of tissue damage. Pushing your workout too hard or too fast can do the same thing. The problem with microtrauma is that it tends to keep happening. You may not be aware of the ongoing process until finally, you experience full-blown injury.

To avoid microtrauma, follow the stretching rules above. And limit your increases in training time and intensity to about 10 percent per week. Finally, if you experience minor pains or soreness during or after exercise, don't ignore them. Back off, and consult your medical practitioner.

Prevention can be as simple as common-sense preparation and listening to your body. Whether preparing for a sporting event or just winding down from a stressful day, stretching can prevent injuries, improve posture and circulation and help you become more limber and relaxed.

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