Finding the Proper Stretch: 5 Ways to Get a Proper Warm Up to Avoid Injury
Engaging in regular exercise is one of the keys to achieving optimal health and longevity, but unnecessary injuries can disrupt an exercise regimen or cause an individual to completely stop performing a certain type of exercise due to chronic discomfort. Although injuries cannot always be prevented, individuals can protect themselves by stretching and warming up the muscles before exercising. This process increases blood flow within the muscles, makes collagen fibers more flexible, and improves range of motion. Warming up also gradually increases the heart rate, which better prepares the cardiovascular and respiratory system for more vigorous activity. Accordingly, individuals who stretch properly can exercise more efficiently and get the most out of their workouts. Here are stretching techniques that help prevent injuries by providing a thorough warm up.
Benefits of Dynamic Stretching
Shortly before performing the first dynamic stretch, it is important to briefly warm up the muscles by doing jumping jacks or gently running in place for about five minutes. Dynamic stretching involves slow, controlled movements that allow the muscles and joints to gently engage their full range of motion prior to exercising. They typically mimic parts of the movements that will be performed during the workout. For instance, arm circles are beneficial stretches for swimming, while spinal rotations and leg pendulums are optimal stretches that prepare the body for running.
In the past, static stretching, where a stretch is held in a stationary position for a short period of time, was recommended pre-workout. Common static stretches include the butterfly stretch or triceps stretch. However, research has shown that dynamic stretching is more beneficial pre-workout. Static stretching can extend and exhaust the muscles, while dynamic stretching relaxes and improves the flexibility of the muscles. Therefore, dynamic stretches are associated with improved performance and range of motion for most individuals who use these types of stretching techniques directly before exercising.
Active individuals who enjoy activities such as soccer, swimming, basketball, cycling, running, or football have been shown to benefit from dynamic stretching. Similarly, individuals who enjoy weightlifting generally demonstrate enhanced power and performance when they perform dynamic stretches as opposed to static stretches or not stretching at all. Therefore, dynamic stretching is useful for people who are preparing for any type of cardiovascular activity as it warms up the muscles and joints properly, increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, and prepares the heart and lungs for exercise. The recommended stretches are as follows:
- Stand upright with the feet shoulder-width apart and stretch the arms out to the side at the height of the shoulders.
- Slowly begin to make small circular motions with the arms.
- Perform 20 arm circles by swinging the arms forward.
- Reverse the direction and repeat 20 arms circles by swinging the arms backwards.
- Perform 5 to 10 repetitions.
- Repeat the entire stretch by performing larger arm circles.
- Stand in place with the hands on the hips or hold onto the back of a chair or a wall for support if it is needed.
- Swing the right leg forward and backward to a position that does not cause pain or discomfort.
- Repeat the leg pendulums 5 to 10 times.
- Place the right leg on the ground and perform leg pendulums with the left leg 5 to 10 times.
- This stretch can also be repeated by facing the wall and swinging the right leg out to the side 5 to 10 times.
- Followed by swinging the left leg out to the side 5 to 10 times.
- Stand upright with the arms stretched out in front of the body at shoulder height. The palms should be facing down.
- Begin to walk forward and swing both arms to the right side of the body. The right arm should swing out to the side, while the left arm should swing across the chest. Only the shoulder joints should move and the torso needs to remain straight and facing forward during the arm swings.
- Keep walking and reverse the direction of the arm swing. This time the left arm should swing out to the side and the right arm should swing across the chest.
- Repeat this stretch 5 to 7 times.
Jog to Quad Stretch
- Start this stretching technique by jogging in place for 3 to 5 seconds.
- Next, reach behind the right leg, grab the right foot, and stretch out the quad. Hold this position for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Start jogging again and repeat this stretch with the left leg.
- Repeat this technique 5 to 10 times.
- Stand upright with the feet placed shoulder-width apart and stretch the arms out to the side at the height of the shoulders.
- While keeping torso in a stationary position, begin to slowly rotate or swing the upper body from left to right.
- Repeat this stretch 5 to 10 times.
Each of these stretches should be repeated several times at a slow pace that does not cause exhaustion as the body still requires energy for the workout. The same stretches can be repeated after completing the exercise routine, as this further increases the flexibility of the muscles and helps cool the body down.
Overall, it is important to gently stretch muscles that will be used for exercising in order to relax them and improve their flexibility. Tight, rigid muscles are more prone to injury. Therefore, a key aspect of injury prevention is avoiding physical activity when the muscles are cold, and performing dynamic stretches that gradually prepare the body for rigorous exercise. Tailoring the stretches to the specific activity that will be performed further enhances the long-term health benefits of stretching regularly before a workout.