Before you work out, do you stretch? Warm up? What do you do? For a vast majority of fitness enthusiasts worldwide, there are a variety of answers to all of the above questions. If you ever watch TV or movies, you'll commonly see your favorite actors and actresses do some light static or dynamic stretching before going on a run. Should the exercise sequence take place in a gym, you'll often see the yoked guy walk right in and lift a massive amount of weight. While these methods may work for Jerome Mayberry (see a funny clip regarding this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7lQuJGjED0), this isn't applicable for most people, regardless of age, gender or fitness background.
So what is the best way to strech and warm up before a workout? I'll explain both below:
1) Stretching - Self myofascial release, better known as SMR, has been scientifically proven to be THE best method of stretching pre-and-post exercise. Not only can this be done via the use of several difference pieces of equipment (foam rollers, medicine balls, handheld rollers, etc.), but, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, "SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements. These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process called the Cumulative Injury Cycle. This cycle follows a path of inflammation, muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance." Moreover, "SMR focuses on alleviating these adhesions (also known as “trigger points” or “knots”) to restore optimal muscle motion and function."
I can say from personal experience, and from my clients who warm up and cool down using SMR every day, that your preparedness and range-of-motion increases for the task(s) at hand as a result of this form of stretching. Don't own any of the above pieces of equipment? You can buy all of the above off Amazon for under $20, and they last forever.
But what about static stretching? According to a paper done by Anthony D. Kay and Anthony J. Blazevich entitled:Effect of Acute Static Stretch on Maximal Muscle Performance: A Systematic Review, the researchers found that while "stretching may reduce the acute incidence of muscle strain injuries, there was... a negative effect of stretch on performance." The above quote is in reference to the use of static stretching as a means of improving range-of-motion, injury prevention and muscular performance. In essence: If you utilize static stretching as your pre-workout/competition method of getting loose, you may be aiding in injury prevention, but you're more than likely inhibiting yourself from your maximum performance output.
The Takeaway for Stretching: Use SMR pre-and-post workout, and you'll be amazed to see the benefits it will provide you and your performance.
2) Warm Up - What do you do for a warm up? Just stretch? Walk, jog or run on the treadmill? It's best to do a combination of stretching and a dynamic warm up before beginning a workout or competing.
According to Malachy McHugh, the director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, "Stretching muscles while moving... increases power, flexibility and range of motion."
So what can you do from a dynamic perspective? If you're going to be doing a cardio or running based working, warming up by walking or jogging might be the best thing to do. Hitting a particular area of the body during your workout? Do warmup sets of bodyweight exercises. For example, if you will be performing chest exercises during your workout, do a couple of sets of pushups to get those muscles ready to work. Do some bodyweight squats, squat jumps, or even lighter sets of weighted squats if you'll be hitting your legs pretty hard.
The Takeaway for Stretching and Warm Up Pre-Exercise: Combine SMR and dynamic movements, and you'll be in the best position to succeed during your workout or competition.
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