Having passed my Warm-Up & Stretch Instruction assessment last week – I was wondering if we should be aiming to be like Mr Fantastic and be as flexible as possible?
Needless to say, there are tons of ways to “stretch” – whether it is a full class such as Pilates, Yoga and Tai-chi or you might do some stretches pre or post workout, when you wake, at your desk…… but how many people actually do it?
When I was at the gym the other night, I watched some of the people working out – it seemed about 50% did some form of warm-up or stretching. For a few though it was quite half-hearted (holding a stretch for 2 seconds) and some left the gym as soon as they’d finished with the weights……
I asked around a few friends about their stretching habits and why they either didn’t do it or did very little and the responses varied from “Too time-consuming”, “Don’t really know how”, “Don’t see the benefit” to the rather bizarre “That’s something girls or old people do” !?!?! Say what ?!
I was a little stunned. Any aerobic class I’ve been to always has a warm-up and stretches at the end, and every gym induction I’ve been to includes explaining warm-up and cool-down stretches….. maybe for some it’s just lack of practice. Which is the main problem – the less you do, the less flexible you are.
Some on the other hand were very good and had a full warm-up/cool-down routine and even did small stretches at work/home too.
The benefits of including a warm-up/cool-down/stretches are widely documented and researched:
– Reduced muscle stiffness
– Increased speed of contraction/relaxation of muscles
– Greater range of movement
– Helps improve posture
– Helps raise/lower body temperature
– Helps raise/lower heart rate
– Helps prepare the muscles for the activity to follow
– Helps focus the mind
– Helps remove waste products eg lactic acid and potentially delay DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
– Helps PREVENT INJURIES!!
The list goes on…… and should form an essential part of ANY training program. So what have I learnt…..
Should last 5-10 minutes and have you working at 30-40% of your maximum performance level such as a brisk 5 min. walk on a treadmill, cross trainer, bike…. take your pick.
The aim is to start raising your heart rate and body temperature (as muscles work better once warmed) and mobilize your joints (to avoid injury).
It is generally considered that a good warm-up should include some Dynamic Stretches (ie. performed “on the move”) as this ensures that you don’t cool-off too much, and helps prevent muscle stiffness more than static (held) stretches.
The stretches you perform depend on what muscles/area you are going to be working next, but personally I like to work the whole body, doing 8-10 reps of each.
As part of my prep at College I made a sheet of instructions on how to perform each of them – There’s a great website which explains them though… http://www.brianmac.co.uk/dynamic.htm
For your info/amusement here’s my examples……
Shoulders – Shrug, Elbow & Arm Circles
Waist – Side Bends & Twists
Hips – Hip Circles
Legs – Half Squats, Leg Swings, Lunges, Calf Raises
Aim of the cool-down is gradually reduce your body temperature back to normal and help the muscles relax and lengthen (as lifting weights can shorten them). It also helps develop flexibility and increase the range of movement, and fingers crossed, prevent the dreaded DOMS!
As it’s to aid muscle relaxation – the stretches are static and held in place for 10 seconds – however to improve the flexibility/range they should be held for 30 seconds. Some more of my examples….. (one of my cats to decided to watch a couple of them – ha ha ha).
Lower Body – Hamstrings, Groin, Quads, Calves, Inner Thigh
Upper Body – Lumbar, Hip Flexor, Upper Back, Chest, Triceps, Shoulder
For me, preventing injury and having a full range of movement is really important, as we get older our joints and muscles get stiffer due partly to inactivity and partly to the reduced minerals etc in our bones and muscles. I have a number of family members that suffer with arthritis & osteoporosis but regular exercise, stretching and use of the muscles and joints can help prevent/ease the symptoms of this.
There are a few guys at the gym who, looking for the short-term goal of muscle size overlook the importance of a proper warm-up/stretching routine, even to the point that they feel that if they don’t get DOMS they haven’t worked hard enough! In reality DOMS is a sign of damage and can prevent you from training for a few days – so anything that can help avoid it is a bonus for me and I’m looking more at my long-term health goals.
In answer to my original thought – No – I don’t think we need to go all out and start doing Yoga everyday so that we can contort our bodies into all sorts of shapes – although it does appeal. Just taking a few minutes before and after each workout, has enough benefits to far outweigh the reasons not to bother. We’re all different and there’s so many ways in which to warm-up and stretch there’s something for everyone and I’m definitely giving Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates a try at some point.