It is imperative to warm up your body for your workout and even stretching. If you go straight into lifting weights or stretching you could seriously damage your muscles and tendons by pulling something that could cause you a lot of pain, and could even put you down-and-out for a while. Warming up and stretching will help stretch your muscles (duh, right?), protect your muscles against injury, and allow your muscles the maximum range of motion for your joints – again, protecting you against injury.
Personally, I like to get some cardio in and really warm up my whole body, including my heart (yes, the heart is a muscle that needs to be warmed up, too), prior to stretching. There are tons of things you can do to warm up. For example:
- Light running in place
- Jumping jacks
- Jump rope
- Light treadmill
- Arch trainer
Starting off gently (not at full-speed) will allow your muscles to warm up gradually. Once you’ve completed 20-30 minutes of cardio, every muscle in your body should be warmed up and ready for the weights or stretching. Personally, I like to do my cardio and then get some really great stretching in. I like to use several Yoga poses (and some stretches I made up) to get my muscles ready for the weights, pushups, sit-ups, etc. I start from my neck, move to my arms, then back and chest, then legs. By the time I’m done stretching my body feels great, I’m energized for the rest of my workout, and I can’t wait to get started!
When you workout, including stretching, your muscles are receiving oxygen. This oxygen helps them continue to work properly and it helps make you feel great. I know that when my muscles are hurting pretty badly from my workout the night before I can do a little cardio and then some stretching and I’ll feel a whole lot better (not nearly as sore).
Stretching after a good workout is also essential to help ensure your muscles don’t start cramping up (along with eating right). When you workout (with weights usually) you make microscopic tears in your muscles. When this happen your muscles have to grow back together and repair that tear; hence, your muscles get bigger and stronger. Stretching helps the process. I also like to do some light stretching after each set of whatever I’m doing.
For example, if I am using the weights to workout my arms, I’ll do 1 – 2 sets, stretch out the target muscles for about 15 – 20 seconds, and then continue with my sets. This not only gives me a few extra seconds for a break, but it helps the muscles to work harder.
Do you always stretch during your workouts? If not, can you tell the difference in your muscles when you do and when you don’t stretch?