We live in an era where we have very little time! So, when our "weekend warriors" workout, they often forget the basics. There are two fundamental components of every workout routine: warming up and stretching. To jump into a workout without warming up, and to pursue exercise without stretching will often lead to injury. To be sufficiently warmed up and stretched, try the following:
- Engage in a five minute walk or jog to allow your joints to become more flexible. This will also enhance blood supply to your joints. Other options include cycling or jumping rope.
- Participate in dynamic stretching before you exercise. Before you start your full-fledged workout, you want to move the muscles and joints you plan to target during your routine in a full range of motion at a lower intensity. While traditionally people have engaged in static stretching before a workout, research indicates that static stretching before exercise does not appear to improve performance or prevent injury, and in some cases, actually hinders performance. This does not mean that you shouldn't stretch before exercising, though! It just means that dynamic stretching is more effective than static stretching before exercise. If your workout consists of running, try jogging 20 meters with high knees, followed by 20 meters of butt kicks and 20 meters of lateral slides in either direction. These simple movements will help loosen up the legs and prepare them for action. Similarly, if you plan on lifting weights, try performing a lightweight warmup set before delving into each exercise to help increase blood flow to the targeted muscles and joints. This is particularly important for compound exercises like squats, lunges and pushups. This may sound like a lot of extra work, but in reality it does not require much additional time and it will allow more functional range of motion during your workout routine.
- Finish your workout with an easy, static stretch. Now's the time to focus on static stretching, where increasing flexibility is the primary goal. Be sure to hold each individual stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, pushing yourself to discomfort, although you shouldn't feel outright pain. If you're only holding each stretch for a second or two, you're wasting your time! You will not be able to enhance flexibility without maintaining a stretch for the allotted period of time. You should be able to complete a full-body stretching routine in 10 minutes or less.
When you perform a warmup, pre-exercise dynamic stretch and post-exercise static stretch, you'll effectively help prevent injury, enhance performance and improve flexibility. Not only are these essential to maintaining an active lifestyle, they're critical components of full-body fitness. If you fail to keep your muscles and joints moving in a full range of motion, you open yourself up to muscle imbalances, gait changes and an increased risk of falling as you age. If you want to look and feel just as spry in your 80s as you do in your 20s, 30s or 40s, it's essential that you value stretching and full-body flexibility now.
>>Try this stretching routine incorporating just six stretches
Header image credit: Lululemon Athletica, http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/5730002007/sizes/z/in/photostream/