Most of us were taught a form of “stretch before you exercise to avoid injury” did you know that we’ve known for years that this isn’t a successful strategy? Stretching (stretch-and-hold) before higher intensity exercise decreases our power output and increases our risk of injury due to momentary relaxation in the supporting structures in the joint (muscles, tendons, and ligaments). Doing a stretch-and-hold stretch is different than a stretch-as-you-move motion, from an injury perspective.
For example, we may be used to doing a quad stretch by bringing your heel towards your behind, and holding for 10-30 seconds. This isn’t a bad stretch (in fact, I actually love this one), it just needs to be done AFTER exercise and not before. A better alternative before exercise would be a gentle body weight squat, or a butt-kicker motion without the hold.
Why Do I Need a Warm-Up?
It is important to perform 5-10 minutes of warm-up activities to prepare your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cardiovascular system for exercise!
Instead of doing a series of stretches before exercise, it’s better to complete an active warm-up.
An active warm-up should consist of movements that are continuous (rather than stretch-and-hold), starting at a lower intensity and gradually increasing difficulty.
An active warm-up is designed to prepare the body for exercise. It helps us gradually increase our heart rate, the temperature of our body, increase blood pressure, and prepare our body to use energy.
A warm-up will lower your risk of cardiac and orthopedic injury. If you have hypertension a warm up is even more important! Hypertension is high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower at rest. Hypertension is diagnosed by either the top number (systolic), the bottom number (diastolic), or both. The cut off points are a minimum of 140 mmHg systolic blood pressure, or 90 mmHg diastolic blood pressure.
What types of movement should I do?
So many different types of activities “qualify” for an active warm-up. Here are a few of my favorite examples for a total body warm-up:
- Body weight squats
- Body weight wide-stance sumo squats
- Overhead reach
- Lateral side bend
- Trunk rotation
- Standing hip abduction/adduction
- Lateral Lunge
- Pushup-position with step through
- Shoulder circles
- High knees
Post-Exercise Cool Down
A cool-down after you complete your exercise helps the body safely return to rest. It is so easy to finish a tough portion of exercise, and immediately want to sit or lie down. Resist the urge! Take some time to do moderate to low intensity activity for 5-10 minutes after exercise.
This gradually decreases heart rate, reduces our body temperature, and decreases blood pressure to return to rest.
Be safe! Exercise should help us feel better, not worse! Getting injured can create a set-back and causes us to lose momentum. Be brave and courageous. You are doing hard things!
My love to you,
Dr. Monique Middlekauff
About the Author
Dr. Monique Middlekauff is a Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist (RCEP) through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). She has been a certified personal trainer with the NSCA, ACSM, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) for over 10 years. Monique is certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), and is an Exercise is Medicine Level 3 credentialed provider. Monique works for a major health system in Idaho. Her goal is to pursue health and overall well being through evidence-based practice. Physical wellness comes in many forms, and she seeks to celebrate where you are, and challenge you to be better! Find more information about Monique at www.MoniqueMiddlekauff.com