Last week we looked at fitness and focused on cardio and strength training, this week we’re going to look at an equally important aspect of fitness by zeroing in on pre and post workout essentials, starting with stretching. Stretching is so important to keep your body lose and limber, while preventing injury and speeding up your recovery, there are two types of stretching that we are going to focus on; dynamic and static. A good warm-up with dynamic stretching is essential to prep for your workout, and a gentle cool-down with static stretching is an absolute must to start recovery post-workout. Let’s take a closer look at each style.
Dynamic stretching involves stretching with movement where you are constantly moving your body to elongate your muscles. This type of stretching allows you to “wake up” your muscles by lengthening them without tearing them; it’s basically a way of loosening and warming you up prior to starting your workout. The more loose and warm your muscles the better you will feel during your workout as you will be able to go deeper into the moves during strength training and push harder during cardio.
Here are a few examples of dynamic stretches:
- Washing Machine: Stand with your feet hip width apart and twist your upper body from side to side while keeping your lower body in place
- Knee Circles: Stand up with your feet touching side by side. Bend the knees and place your hands on your knees and move them in a circular motion
- Cat-Cow: Get down on all fours, curl your toes into the ground and spread your fingers wide apart. Slowly arch your back and look up, and then slowly curve your back outward, bring your chin to your chest and look down
Now let’s have a look at static stretching for your post workout cool down. A static stretch involves stretching without movement and holding the posture for several seconds. Exercise is very hard and it puts stress on the body, static stretching can help prevent muscle soreness and improve your flexibility so that your future workouts won’t feel as strenuous and your muscles won’t feel so tight. Take a good 5 to 10 minutes to cool down at the end of your workout and hold each posture for around 10 seconds. If you feel any pain whatsoever while stop, don’t overstretch as may cause torn ligaments, stay within your limits when it comes to static stretching, remember that this should feel good and not at all painful.
Here are a few examples of static stretches:
- Shoulder Stretch: Bring your right arm across your body over your chest. Place your left hand above your right elbow and gently pull, keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Repeat with the opposite arms
- Triceps Stretch: Lift your right arm overhead backwards, place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull. Repeat with the opposite arms
- Quadriceps Stretch: Stand up straight bend your right leg behind you bringing your foot to your glutes, grab your foot with your right hand and gently pull. Repeat with the opposite leg
Another great tool for your post workout recovery is using a foam roller to alleviate muscle soreness. A foam roller is a cylinder shaped device made of foam that you place on a flat surface and gently press against your muscles rolling back and forth. This tool has been shown to have a big impact on reducing muscle soreness after a tough workout. So if you are new to fitness or if you find yourself feeling particular tight, give this a try, it’s both inexpensive and effective. An alternative option is to consider getting a sports massage, although this can be pricey it’s worth it on occasion. Although this was initially developed for athletes, you don’t have to be super fit to benefit from this. It’s a great option to help you recover especially if you have injuries, chronic pain or a limited range of motion as it can improve all of these for you.
An additional alternative is to incorporate yoga into your fitness regimen. Although it is a workout in itself, it is amazing at improving flexibility, range of motion and decreasing stress. Check out a local yoga studio in your area and try a class, some studios offer a free trial period where you can take an unlimited number of classes for a certain amount of time at a reduced price. If you prefer to workout at home you can also find many DVDs for all levels and styles of yoga; I have quite a few myself, these are great for introducing you to yoga. For a more frugal option you can also look online for free yoga videos, again there are tons available for all levels and styles of yoga. If you’re new to yoga start slow, with a beginner version that’s slow, gentle and relaxing. If you’re a yoga aficionado, then try a more advanced class or try hot yoga; this is my personal preference, during the class you can get really deep into the poses and after you feel super relaxed.
Your pre and post workout routine is so important in order for you to get the most out of fitness regardless of your goals. Take a good ten minutes to warm up and another ten to cool down, maybe try using a foam roller, getting a massage or trying out a new yoga class; these are all great ways to reduced soreness, prevent injury and start recovery. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider for more information and to discuss any concerns that you may have. Go ahead, stretch it out and get limber!
*Stay tuned for my next post as we continue exploring pre and post workout essentials with proper nutrition techniques.
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