I once decided against warming up and stretching before my usual daily run; I’d been late dropping my son at daycare, and didn’t think I had time for preparation if I still wanted my workout before work. I regretted it almost as soon as I sat in my office chair – my muscles were aching, my back and legs felt stiff, and I generally didn’t feel the “high” I usually get from exercise.
It’s important to work on maintaining as much flexibility in your body as possible, especially if you suffer from joint or muscle pain. The more flexible your body, the less likely you are to injure yourself. Stretching before exercise is one of the best ways to improve your flexibility.
However, unlike me on that rushed day when I ran without warming up or stretching, it’s crucial to warm up your muscles before you stretch. Try running on the spot for a few minutes or doing lunges or jumping jacks to warm your muscles.
There are two basic forms of stretching – static and dynamic stretching. Performing a few of both will help to release tension from your muscles and prepare you for a workout.
Static stretches involve holding a single position for 30 to 60 seconds to loosen up your muscles. However, dynamic stretches, where you move during the stretch, are just as important. Try one or more of these next time you need to stretch.
1. Lie on the floor, on your back with knees bent. Grab your right knee with both hands and pull it up towards your chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat with your left knee.
2. Again, lie on the floor, on your back with knees bent. Roll both legs to the right so your knees are as close to the floor as possible. Hold for 10 seconds, then roll to your left.
3. Try a dynamic stretch like handwalking. Stand and lower your hands as far as they will go without bending your legs, to your ankles or the floor if possible. Then walk your hands out in front of you until you are as far down as you can reach. Next walk your hands back to your ankles. This is a difficult stretch, so you only need to do it once (twice, if you really want to challenge your muscles.)
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