One of the most important elements to proper exercise that is also often overlooked is the warm up stretch. Warming up is absolutely vital when it comes to any kind of exercise, otherwise you’ll expose yourself to injury and lackluster performance. Performing a proper sequence of warm up stretches will have you prepared for your activity both physically and mentally. The initial warm up should be some kind of light cardio, such as skip rope, jogging, climbing stairs, etc. Once you’re a little warm you can begin to stretch.
Doing a proper warm up will literally warm you and your muscles up, which enables the muscles to contract and relax quickly. Warming up also dilates the blood vessels, meaning that blood flow is increased and there is consequently less stress on the heart during strenuous exercise. Furthermore, warming up will get you sweating, and this is good because when you’re sweating your body is able to control its temperature to a certain extent. Sweat provides a natural coolant which will help you keep going. It’s also important for your joints, your range of motion will increase, enabling you to perform and feel comfortable.
Finally, getting warmed up triggers your body to release certain hormones that the body needs to regulate energy levels. Your body will begin to use stored carbohydrates and fatty acids to produce energy and will get into exercise mode.
There are many different kinds of warm up stretches, though they basically fall into one of two kinds, either static or dynamic. As the name suggests, static stretches do not involve any motion, whereas a dynamic stretch does. They also target different aspects of flexibility, so it is important to incorporate both.
Dynamic stretches often involve some kind of repetitive motion which helps stretch a particular muscle. Each muscle you stretch should get about ten seconds. An example of a dynamic stretch would be to stand straight up with your hands at your sides. Now you can proceed by extending and flexing all the joints on your body in turn. This means your fingers, wrists, shoulders, toes, feet, ankles, knees, and hips. Another dynamic stretch involves jogging very slowly as you lift one knee up towards your chest and out away from your body in a quick motion, alternating between left and right legs.
Static stretches may be more of what you’re accustomed to. The idea is to strike a pose which creates moderate tension in a muscle, and to hold it in this position for some time, usually around ten or twenty seconds. An example of a static stretch would be to stand straight up with legs apart and knees slightly bent. Now hold your arms directly out to your sides like a pair of wings. Make sure your palms are facing forwards, and slowly bend your fingers away behind you. As you slowly reach back with your fingers you’ll feel the stretch right in your chest. Another static stretch would be the ever common groin stretch which involves standing with a very wide stance for about twenty seconds at a time.
This basically covers the two most important kinds of stretches, and since each kind contains hundreds of different stretches and variations on those stretches, it is beyond the purpose of this article to give any comprehensive account of the many stretches which could be done during a warm up. I’ll therefore simply consider a few more examples, and leave you to explore more stretches on your own if you’re interested.
]Stretch 1: Stand straight up with legs apart and toes pointing directly forward. Now while keeping your back straight, slowly lower yourself down by stepping forward as your exhale. Stay in this position and keep your weight on your back foot as you count to ten, then lift yourself back up. This stretch is especially good before running or walking.
Stretch 2: Lie down on the floor and extend your left arm out towards your left side. Now move your left leg over your right side, as you bring your left knee to be lined up with your hips, but keep your right leg straight. Now use your right arm to push down on your left knee as your slowly exhale and feel the stretch.
Stretch 3: Stand straight up with your legs apart and back straight. Keep looking forward as you place your hands on your lower back. Keep your fingers pointing downwards and your elbows pointing outwards. Now slowly exhale and pull the elbows back until they are almost touching, and if you can get them to touch then do so. You should feel a very strong stretch if you do this properly, try to maintain the stretch for at least five seconds. This stretch is really good for sports in which you need to use your upper body a lot, like basketball.
Remembering to warm up and do your stretches can greatly enhance physical performance and reduce the risk of injury. Stretching is therefore an essential component of any workout routine.
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