The Importance of Warming Up Before Your Workout (and Stretching After)
Before any fitness routine, it’s important to warm up your body to prepare it for heavier demands. A warmup is intended to gradually increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles, boost your breathing rate, and raise your body temperature.
During a warmup, your blood vessels dilate, which reduces strain on the heart. Oxygen becomes more readily available to the muscles. Warmer muscles contract more forcefully and have greater elasticity and speed, which is important for a workout routine. And the joints are looser, which expands your range of motion.
These physiological changes caused by warmups not only help improve overall exercise performance but also can reduce the risk of injury.
In the past, warmups typically consisted of a few static stretches, but today, that’s not recommended. Instead, it’s better to perform dynamic movements, rather than push cold muscles to lengthen, and potentially cause a strain or tear before your workout even begins.
What is dynamic stretching?
Dynamic stretching loosens your joints and helps your range of motion. It can be as easy as walking a bit before you jog, marching in place before you jump rope, or cycling for a few minutes before you lift weights.
If you’re using exercise equipment at the gym, you can simply keep the treadmill, elliptical, or stair climber at a low resistance level before jumping into a pre-set high-performance routine.
In your home gym, dynamic stretches to loosen up include doing some bodyweight squats, lunges, knee lifts, hamstring curls, inchworms, side bends, arm circles, and twists.
Warmups should last from 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the intensity and duration of the upcoming exercise session. Even if you are pressed for time, don’t skip the warmup. Some preparation is always better than none.
Do some static stretches after your workout
The best time to stretch is after workout sessions, although gentle stretching certainly is beneficial in the morning, throughout the day (especially if you sit at a desk), and before going to bed as well.
Stretching enhances elasticity in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, which helps combat tightness and soreness. During exercise, your muscles repeatedly contract and shorten; stretching helps lengthen muscles and release tension that can cause stiffness.
Regular stretching leads to better flexibility, which is particularly important because we tend to lose range of motion as we age. It also can contribute to improved posture and coordination by preserving muscular health and augmenting kinesthetic awareness.
Furthermore, greater flexibility can help reduce the risk of injuries. And although it may be a “hurts-so-good” experience, stretching ultimately promotes relaxation.
For best results, stretch after every workout – even if you only have a few minutes. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two stretching sessions per week.
Consider trying these static stretches after your workout, but keep these guidelines in mind:
- Target major muscle groups. This includes the upper and lower back, chest, shoulders, triceps, hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
- Hold steady. Don’t bounce, which can lead to muscle tears. Hold each stretch for 10 to 60 seconds.
- Avoid pain. Discomfort is expected, but don’t push to the point of pain.
- Breathe. Don’t hold your breath, but concentrate on deeper, slower breaths.
Warmups and stretching are critical bookends that start and finish your workout sessions and help your body perform at its best over time.
For more than 25 years, Julie King has been a certified group exercise instructor and personal trainer, holding certifications from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, the Aquatic Exercise Association and Schwinn/Mad Dogg Athletics. She also has extensive continuing education and instruction experience in PiYo, YogaFit and mat Pilates.
Over her career, Julie has led virtually every class format at commercial health clubs, corporate fitness centers, wellness centers, schools and online. A contributing editor for Club Business International magazine, she has been published in Club Industry, Fitness Management, Club Solutions, National Fitness Trade Journal and Gear Trends/SNEWS.
With a M.S. in Kinesiology and a B.S. in Journalism, Julie is passionate about helping others to cultivate a love and habit of exercise.