Stretching is an often overlooked component of exercise. Many people rush through their warm up or cool down, or skip these exercises altogether as they rush on with ‘more important’ aspects of exercise such as strength and cardiovascular training. And when it comes to static stretching on its own, the majority of people do not devote nearly enough time to improving their mobility and flexibility.
However, it is extremely important to work on these aspects of fitness. Without warming up properly before exercise, you put yourself at greater risk of injury and you will also not perform to your full potential. It is important to take your body through a full dynamic warm-up, which will elevate your heart rate, prepare your joints and actively stretch your m muscles. .
You should move through exercises quickly and avoid static stretching (as this can be too intense on a cool muscle).
Begin with exercises that get blood pumping to the entire body. Try inchworms, where you walk your hands forward into a plank position, and then slowly step your feet in to meet your hands. You can also add a push up when you reach the plank position for an added challenge.
Next, try a walking lunge with a twist to warm up the legs, core and back. Take a big step forward with your left leg, and then rotate your torso to the left. Repeat on the right side.
Perform leg swings by holding on to a stable surface and loosely extending your leg forwards and then relaxing it behind you. Keep your hips square and the movement controlled. Perform 15-20 swings on one side before switching legs.
Next, try some knee and quad pulls. You can either perform this standing or walking. For the former, pull your knee tightly into your chest and then release, alternating sides. For the latter, bend your foot behind you and bring your foot towards your backside. Hold each stretch very briefly, for one to two seconds.
It is also important to perform some glute activation exercises prior to training. This includes glute bridges, side lying clams and fire hydrants.
With the lying clam, keep the hips stacked and closed. Engage the rotation by squeezing the glutes, rather than the quadriceps.
For the upper body, perform a thoracic extension and rotation on all fours. Place one hand on the side of your head, and twist up towards the ceiling. Keep the hips steady and just feel the upper back opening up.
Finish with some deep squats coming into a standing position. Bend and extend 8-10 times for a great final stretch.
It is equally important to stretch after you finish your workout. Exercise actually tightens your muscles up and, without properly stretching your muscles out after using them, you will find your body becoming less limber over time. Although exercise has many benefits, it can therefore also make you feel even stiffer.
In the next post, we will cover what stretches are essential for post-workout, and why regularly setting aside time to stretch is beneficial.