Proper Fitness and Body Toning Training Includes Stretching and Warming Up
It is unfortunate that stretching has become the necessary evil that most fitness enthusiasts do for about five minutes prior to starting their workout. Some dedicated individuals might even repeat some stretching exercises at the end of the workout again, but that is as far as it goes.
Quite frankly, stretching just doesn’t have that same emotional power as bench pressing your body weight for the first time, or burning a thousand calories on the treadmill. It is unfortunate that stretching is not emphasized more because it is extremely important and one of the easiest fitness elements to develop.
But, stretching and warming up is a huge part of a successful workout program and needs to be incorporated for a variety of reasons….
Excluding stretching from a fitness program can lead to much tighter muscles that can cause problems.
- Stiff muscles that are suddenly stretched during training or exercise will strain or even tear more easily.
- Muscle tightness can lead to pain or even injury elsewhere in the body.
- Muscular imbalances are often caused by a lack of flexibility.
These are avoidable situations that can be prevented by staying flexible. Stretching is probably the most overlooked exercise, but it will not only help to prevent injury and reduce stress, it will also increase endurance and strength while helping with overall posture.
Stretching and Warming Up: The Basics
Stretching or flexibility is the range of motion around a specific joint. This range of motion is commonly affected by other attributes like age, gender, body structure, muscle temperature, and level of activeness. An inactive lifestyle is the most common cause of reduced flexibility with age. Just exercising alone will not be enough. An improvement in flexibility is accomplished very similar to other types of exercise. In order to make progress you will have to subject the muscles to more than what they are accustomed to by making them work through a bigger range of motion. Remember that stretching is about increasing the range of motion in a controlled and systematic way. The best part is that you probably don’t have to introduce yet another program to your workout program to gain the benefits of stretching. If you follow these guidelines then you will see measurable progress in a short period of time.
Stretching and Warming Up: The Guidelines
Always warm up before doing any stretching. Cold and stiff muscles will reduce the range of motion and can lead to muscle strain if you stretch too quickly. Warming up will increase blood flow to the muscles which increase the muscle temperature. In most cases a quick warm up of around ten minutes should be more than sufficient. The best exercise for warming up is typically a brisk walk or a slow jog. Don’t fatigue yourself during the warm up, but concentrate on getting a light sweat going. Remember to increase the time on very cold days and it is okay to reduce the time to five minutes when you are already warm and sweating on a hot day.
Stretch, but don’t strain. Stretching is about slowly getting into a position where the muscle is stretched, but not so far that you injure the muscle. Slowly move to the point where you feel tension or a slight tug, but not pain. Hold the stretch for twenty to thirty seconds. The best results are obtained when a core stretching routine before and after workout holds each stretch for around thirty seconds. Remember to complete the stretch to both sides. I like to do the left side first because I usually don’t work it that much. This helps me to keep the stretch on the right the same as the left side and preventing greater flexibility on the right.
Do not bounce while stretching. Stretching should be done slow and steady, not fast and jerky. I like to include breathing as part of my stretch to help me extend the stretch as the muscle relax. As you get into the final part of the stretch breathe out and then hold the stretch as you breathe in. As you start breathing out you should be able to deepen the stretch slightly. Hold it again as you breathe in and then extend into the stretch as you breathe out. This is not bouncing or bobbing during the stretch, but a method to use breathing to relax the muscles and stretch further without increasing the risk of injury.
Stretching and Warming Up: Maximum Benefit
Stretching before and after your normal workout will definitely be a great start, but to maximize the strength and fitness benefits you should also incorporate stretches between exercises. Stretching right before a heavy lift will immediately increase your range of motion and might just help to get more out of the exercise. Lifting through a bigger range of motion puts the muscle under stress for longer and is a well known ingredient to bigger and stronger muscles. Stretching your ankles and hip flexors will also help with heavy lifts like the squat and deadlift. These stretches can temporarily weaken the muscle so it is recommended to stretch for only ten seconds when doing it between sets or exercises.
A Simple Routine for Stretching and Warming Up
A basic yoga routine will help in overall flexibility, but if you don’t know where to start then do the following stretches to hit all the major areas and muscles.
Shoulders: Lie on your back on the floor and stretch your legs by pointing your toes. Extend your arms straight above your face, interlocking your fingers with your palms facing the ceiling. Keeping your arms straight, slowly lower your hands until they rest on the floor behind your head. Hold for thirty seconds.
Hips: Lie on your back with your legs straight. Interlock your hands behind your left upper thigh and pull your knee toward your chest. Hold for thirty seconds, return to the starting position, and then repeat on other side.
Lower Back: Get on your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders. While keeping your hands in place, sit back onto your heels. You should feel a stretch along your back as you keep your arms outstretched. Hold for thirty seconds.
Hamstring: Sit on the edge of a bed or bench with your left leg extended and your right foot on the ground. Rest your left hand on your left knee and then slowly slide your fingers to your toes, reaching as far as possible. Hold for thirty seconds, return to the starting position, and then repeat on the other side.
Thighs: Stand in front of a wall and put your left hand against the wall for support. Bend your left knee and grab your left foot with your right hand and pull your foot so that it presses against your buttocks. Hold for thirty seconds, return to starting position, and then repeat on the other side.
Calves: Stand on a step with the heel of your left foot protruding over the edge of the step. Drop your left heel below the level of the step until you feel a stretch in the calve muscle. Hold for thirty seconds, return to starting position, and then repeat on the other side.
Groin: Sit on the floor with your legs bent and the soles of your feet pressed together in a frog-like position. Hold onto your ankles and use your elbows to gently press your knees toward the floor. Hold for thirty seconds.
Stretching and Warming Up: The Conclusion
Don’t limit your fitness benefits by limiting it to cardio and weight lifting only. Incorporate a stretching routine into your daily fitness program and you will quickly gain all the benefits. If you have the time and what to go even beyond the basics provided here, then look for a good yoga or tai chi center. Both of these will provide a solid foundation on which to build a stretching routine and will provide instruction in using breathing to aid in stretching. Ashtanga yoga will even go a step further and provide an intense workout.
Many things can help with overall fitness but few are so easy to incorporate into your daily routine as a balanced stretching routine. Warm up and stretch regularly to get the results that that can take you to the next level.