Stretching

By Judi Brown — FitStar Contributor

A few months back, I was running late for a boxing class. My day was slammed. I was pinched for time and running behind schedule. Now, boxing class is not normally in my regular exercise routine, but I love when I can squeeze it in. It’s always been super cathartic; and I leave class feeling pretty tough, despite the fact that I’m a boxing novice. So, I jumped right into class as not to draw any extra attention to my tardy self and started following along: punching the heavy bag and sprinting back and forth across the room. About 5 seconds into the sprint, I felt a marked pain in my hamstring. Impatiently, I had jumped in without warming up or any mobility work and I paid for it. It wasn’t terribly painful but I could feel a twinge every time I walked. I had to go super light and modified the rest of the class to compensate for my tweaked hamstring. I ended up having to take off a few days of exercise and I wasn’t thrilled about it. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything serious. After some icing and a few days of rest, I was back to normal. It really wasn’t the end of the world to take a few days off of exercise, but it definitely reinforced the importance of warming up before getting started.

Many of us are aware that jumping into strenuous exercise can be a fast track to injury. Remembering to add in these often neglected components of our workouts can greatly benefit us in preparing the body to workout, prevent injury, and increase range of motion and enhance performance.

Warm It Up
I’ve often heard warming up the body to exercise likened to warming up the car on a chilly morning. If the car is in a cold garage all night, it needs a few minutes to warm up before jetting across town, and so do we. Personally, I like to use the analogy with clients that warming and not warming up is like cooked and uncooked spaghetti. When your muscles are warmed up they become elastic and flexible. Uncooked spaghetti is stiff and brittle and will snap in half when you try to break it. But, once cooked, it’s soft and malleable. It bends this way and that without breaking. Having our muscles warm and flexible (like spaghetti) is important to prevent injury. It’s commonly understood that warming up generally means fairly light aerobic movement. It can really be anything: walking, or jogging in place, walking up and down a set of stairs, range of motion movements. Any non-strenuous movement that can be done easily that gets the heart rate up and the blood flowing. When you warm up, you are literally warming up the temperature of both your body and your muscles. Your heart rate and circulation begin to gradually increase throughout the body. Increased blood flow means more blood going to the muscles, along with more oxygen available to the working muscles, and that also means better performance. Your ligaments and tendons become more flexible, reducing the chance of tears. Additionally, your warm-up gets your body prepared physically and your mind prepared mentally to do more intense exercise, which can enhance performance.

Stretch It Out
The general school of thought for decades was that before you start to move, you should stretch. The more recent school of thought about stretching is that stretching is a beneficial activity after you have sufficiently warmed up. The reason for this is that stretching cold muscles can directly contribute to pulled or injured muscles. (Let’s not forget about the uncooked spaghetti, now I’m hungry). Muscle is elastic and is meant to be flexible as well as strong. If one’s flexibility is not maintained, the muscles will once again shorten. They have the ability to go back and forth from being short (inflexible) and being long (flexible). Although some debate what kinds of stretches are best just prior to training, most would agree that either dynamic stretching or static stretching on a periodic basis do the work of preparing the body for what it goes through, depending on the sport or activity.

Static stretching is the process of applying tension to a muscle to theoretically add length to it. In adding length, you increase the range of motion surrounding a joint, thus increasing your flexibility. Most movements that you think of as “stretching” are static stretches. A common example is bending over, touching your toes, and holding that position. Dynamic stretching (or active stretching) is a process of actively moving a joint or joints through a safe, full range of motion with the intent of improving the joint’s functional capacity for movement. An example is walking lunges or leg swings. With the ability to increase flexibility, increase circulation, reduce stress and muscle soreness, stretching is widely supported as an integral part of fitness.

Get Mobile
It is widely believed that most people who are not injured can move about freely in their environment with no limitation. However, I have encountered many people over my years in the fitness industry that are fully able-bodied and are limited in their range of motion. Enter Mobility exercises. Recently popularized by Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CrossFit and MobilityWOD. He describes mobilization as “a movement-based integrated full-body approach that addresses all the elements that limit movement and performance including short and tight muscles, soft tissue restriction, joint capsule restriction, motor control problems, joint range of motion dysfunction, and neural dynamic issues. In short, mobilization is a tool to globally address movement and performance problems.” Focusing on Mobility helps to prevent limited range of motion issues or injuries before they arise. Mobility should be a proactive approach, not a reactive one. So to differentiate: flexibility is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to lengthen passively through a range of motion. Mobility is the ability to move a joint actively through a range of motion. Mobility is all encompassing and takes into account the joint, the joint capsule (ligaments), the muscles crossing the joint and the nervous system (motor control), Not just lengthening the muscle.

Lastly, I have to add the mental/emotional release of stretching. It’s obvious to observe as the body becomes less physically tense when stretched, quite often the mind follows. So take those 5-10 minutes in your day and go on and get loose. You’ll be glad you did!

Looking for a new way to get loose? Try Warm It Up, our FREE Freestyle session from FitStar Personal Trainer. It’s a 10 minute workout that will get you ready for any FitStar session!

What’s your favorite way to loosen up? Tell us in the comments below!

FitStar Contributor Profile

Judi Brown

To quote Henry Rollins, Judi will tell you “My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud”. A firecracker single mom of two small boys, Judi is a marathon runner, extreme ultra-distance hiking adventurer, dancer, spinning instructor, softball player, choreographer and gymnast. Judi studied Physical Education at the University of South Florida and received a Bachelors of Science degree while competing as an NCAA athlete. Judi rocked the fitness industry for 12 years as a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, TRX trainer, fitness writer, and on-camera fitness personality. She’s designed and starred in her own fitness videos and worked with some of the biggest names in fitness today, including Tony Horton of P90X, and Dolvette Quince of the Biggest Loser.

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  • Monia Mascheri

    I think that the freestyle session “warm it up” is very good before start the other sessions. But… there is also a final stretching freestyle session? I can’t find it…

    • http://fitstar.com/ FitStar

      Hi Monia, thanks for reaching out! Glad you’re enjoying the “Warm it Up” session. We don’t yet have a final stretching session, but will definitely pass along your request to our team.

      • Monia Mascheri

        Thank you!!
        For me make a good warm-up and final stretching makes the difference between having or not pain the next morning.

      • Liryna

        That would be really great ! Or even have automatically some “Warm Up” proposed before the session !

        • http://fitstar.com/ FitStar

          Thanks for reaching out, Liryna! We love hearing from FitStars like you, and will definitely pass your ideas along to our Product team.