- Warm-up to prepare your body for exercise
- Increase your heart rate with some cardiovascular exercise
- Cool-down to gently return your heart rate to normal
- Stretch those muscles to help prevent injury and keep you
Everyone knows that stretching is an important component in
injury prevention, but it is increasingly becoming an important
step in enhancing sports performance.
Warm Up First
A warm muscle is much more easily stretched than a cold muscle.
Never stretch a cold muscle, always warm-up first to get blood
circulating throughout the body and into the muscles. A warm-up
should be a slow, rhythmic exercise of larger muscle groups done
before an activity. Riding a bicycle or walking works well. This
provides the body with a period of adjustment between rest and
the activity. The warm-up should last about 5-10 minutes and
should be similar to the activity that you are about to do, but
at a much lower intensity. Once you have warmed up at a low
intensity for about 5-10 minutes and have gotten your muscles
warm, you can now stretch.
Before or After a
Stretching before an activity (after the warm-up)
improves dynamic flexibility and reduces the chance of injury.
Stretching after exercise ensures muscle relaxation, facilitating
normal resting length, circulation to joint and tissue structures,
and removal of unwanted waste products, thus reducing muscle
soreness and stiffness. Body temperature is highest right after
the cardiovascular exercise program and/or after strength
training. In order to achieve maximum results in range of motion
and to receive other benefits, it is highly recommended that you
do static stretching at this point in your workout, just after
your cardiovascular program and during or after your strength-training
Stretch Before and After
If it is your day off from strength training and you are just
doing your cardiovascular exercise routine, first warm-up for 5-10
minutes at a low intensity (50-60 percent of your maximum heart
rate ) and stretch the muscles used. Proceed doing a
cardiovascular exercise for at least 20 minutes at a intensity of
50-85 percent of your maximum heart rate (refer to the Global
Health and Fitness Cardiovascular Exercise Program). Then cool
down for 5-10 minutes at a low intensity (50-60 percent of your
maximum heart rate). Now, because your muscles are very warm you
should stretch each of the major muscle groups involved in the
exercise, using the static stretching techniques we explained
previously. For example, if you walked on the treadmill, you
should stretch your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and lower
back. Proper technique for each stretch is absolutely critical
for achieving maximum effectiveness in any one specific muscle
group. In addition to stretching those muscles used in the
exercise, now is also a good time to go through a full body
stretching routine--since blood has circulated throughout your
body and warmed-up your muscles.
Static Stretching Slow and
Static stretching involves a slow, gradual and controlled
elongation of the muscle though the full range of motion and held
for 15-30 seconds in the furthest comfortable position (without
A slow, static stretch that allows
the muscle to relax gradually is the safest course of action. Our
muscles are equipped with a safety mechanism called the stretch
reflex. If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or
forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it
shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so
the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out
of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place.
How much Tension?
The essence of stretching is to lengthen the muscle only
to the point of gentle tension. This is an excellent time to
listen to your body; stretching should never hurt. When starting
a stretch, take a nice deep breath in and slowly release the
breath as you gradually relax into the stretching position. To return muscles to their natural length after your workout,
hold the stretch for approximately 15-30 seconds. This will relax
the muscle from the repeated contractions of exercise, thus
helping prevent injury. To increase your flexibility, after the
initial 30-seconds, try relaxing further into the stretch and
hold this position for an additional 15-30 seconds. Remember to
stretch only to the point of comfortable tension and stop
immediately if you feel any pain in joints or muscles.
Deep, rhythmic breaths help relax our muscles and our minds.
Close your eyes during stretching and focus on your breathing. At
the point where the tension in the muscle begins to release, take
a deep breath, filling your lungs and expanding your diaphragm.
As you slowly exhale, relax further into the stretch and feel the
tension in the muscle melt away.
Mayo sports medicine doctors are
researching whether total relaxation of a muscle may be
an important part of achieving flexibility, perhaps apart
from or in combination with stretching. Anecdotally, they've
observed a high degree of flexibility in "tight"
people while they are under general anesthesia even
though their muscles are structurally the same as when
they are awake. Although it's too early to draw
conclusions, the theory behind this new research is that
stimulation from the central nervous system influences
the flexibility of muscles, and that relaxing a muscle
may be a viable method of enhancing flexibility.
How often should
Your body will respond very positively to gentle stretching. Minimally, you
should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber and your mind
relaxed. Definitely make time for stretching in each of your normal
workouts after a warm-up period whether it be at the beginning or
conclusion of the workout.