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Warming Up and Stretching

Exercise

Many common exercise injuries stem from overlooking two basics:

Warm-up and stretching.

Take a closer look...

Warming up stretches

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!

How to perform a Quick Warm Up Exercise:

  1. Warm up your body first by walking or moving slowly for five minutes.
  2. Afterwards, do some stretching exercises. This will limber up your body and prepare it for activity that is more strenuous. Be sure to stretch your legs, arms, back, torso and shoulder and neck muscles.
  3. You can also do a moderate exercise such as jumping rope for five minutes or so, then stretch.

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.

Maintaining and increasing flexibility is increasingly important as we age because it can protect against injury. For example, if you slip and fall, you'll be better able to handle the abrupt movement without incurring an injury because your muscles will be more elastic. A sedentary lifestyle, however, leads to the gradual loss of joint mobility, which increases the risk of joint or muscle injury.

If you are trying to increase your range of motion, you should spend most of your time stretching after you exercise, not before. This relieves tension in the muscles, which tend to tighten after exercise. Avoid bouncing and jerking your muscles when you stretch to avoid injury. Hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds and breath normally. You may feel mild discomfort, but stop at the first sign of pain. In general, stretching three times a week can help maintain flexibility.

Stretching Safety

Stretching is easy to learn. But there is a right way and a wrong way to stretch. The right way is a relaxed, sustained stretch with your attention focused on the muscles being stretched. The stretches should be slow and easy, not unlike a long yawn and stretch done upon awakening.

The wrong way is to bounce up and down, or to stretch to the point of pain. These methods can actually do more harm than good.

Simple stretches to increase your flexibility

  • Doorway Stretch. Stand in a doorway with your arms out to the side, holding firmly onto the doorway. Lean forward and let your torso hang through the doorway (not too far) with your arms behind you.
  • Doorway Stretch

    • Leg and Back Stretch. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Grasp one leg under the knee and bring it gently toward your chest, while extending the other leg straight out on the floor. Repeat with the other leg, then bring both knees toward your chest.

    Leg and Back Stretch

    • Leg Stretch. Sit upright on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Keeping your knees slightly bent, lean your torso towards your thighs and hold.

    Leg Stretch

    Stretching for Muscle Tension Release

    Try the following simple steps to reduce tension and increase energy levels.

    • Legs and pelvis:  Stand with legs 2 feet apart and point your feet out at a comfortable angle. Bend your knees slowly and lower your buttocks. Eventually they should be able to go as low as your knees. Move up and down ten times.
    • Legs and pelvis:  Stand with legs 2 feet apart and feet facing forward. Rock your pelvis back and forth. Repeat ten times. In the same position, move your hips and pelvis from side to side. Let your torso and arms sway in the opposite direction, as if you were dancing.
    • Entire body:  Jump up and down in place for several minutes. Allow your arms to move freely. Shake out your wrists, and raise your arms over year head, while jumping to release tension in the shoulders and arms.
    • Shoulders, neck and torso:  Sit down with legs out in front. Raise your arms to shoulder level, bending at the elbow. Place your hands on your shoulders with your fingers in front and thumb in back. Turn your elbows, head and neck to the left and then to the right. Repeat ten times. Be sure to let your entire torso move with your shoulders and arms. Then move your shoulders in circles in a forward direction ten times. Repeat in circles in a backward direction ten times, allowing your torso to follow your shoulders so the movement is fluid.
    • Neck and head:  Still in a sitting position, flex your neck backward, so that your face looks at the ceiling, inhaling deeply and relaxing your shoulders as your raise your head. As you slowly lower your head, exhale. Repeat slowly ten times. Then turn your head from side to side (left to right), exhaling as you turn to each side, inhaling as you return to center. Repeat ten times.
    • Eyes:  From a sitting position, look straight ahead. Then slowly raise your eyes up and down, then side to side. Repeat ten times. Now blink your eyes twenty times to moisturize.

    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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