Are you one of the many people who prepare for a run or other exercise by grabbing and holding your legs in a stretched position for a minute or so and then just go? Studies have shown that type of stretching, known as “static stretching,” is not only unproductive but can actually diminish the strength in the muscles that have been stretched. This can lead to anything from decreased performance to injury. If that is how you warm up, you should consider a more “active” warm up that gets your body prepared in a more even way. A more active warm-up will not only help your performance but will help prevent injuries as well. So what does an active warm-up entail?
Foam rolling is a great way to get started in your exercise routine. A foam roll is a cylinder-shaped block of hardened foam that you rest a particular muscle on and roll back and forth. You can do this for pretty much any body part. Foam rolling will remove any knots or tight spots in your muscles and get the blood flowing, which prepares you for activity.
“Dynamic stretching” basically refers to slowly and steadily moving a given muscle back and forth. For example, you can stand facing a wall, put both hands on the wall to steady yourself, and swing one leg to the left and right. Start slow and move in a short range of motion and gradually increase the range of motion. You can swing in both directions (front-back and side-side). You can do arm circles, hip circles, neck circles, etc.
If you have the time and will be performing a range of activities in your exercise (like playing basketball rather than jogging), then you can do a “functional” warm-up. “Functional warm-up” refers to practicing the form that you will use in your run or other exercise. Think about how boxers get ready for a fight. They start by simply moving around to loosen up and slowly start increasing their activity. Right before the fight, they are moving like they are in the fight and hitting the pads just like they were hitting their opponent.
The intensity of your warm-up should equate to the intensity of the exercise you will perform. If you are going for a light jog, then foam rolling will get the blood flowing and get you ready. If you are going to run hard sprints, then you will want to get ready with some dynamic stretching. Finally, if you are going to participate in an activity that requires quick and sudden movements, then you will want to loosen up and increase your activity level until you are performing the same movements at the same speed that you will perform in your activity.
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