Just like your Christmas turkey needs thawing before roasting, your muscles need warming up before they go to work. A thorough warm up is fundamental before any kind of workout whatever the weather but even more so in the winter months. Cold weather causes your muscles to lose more heat and contract, causing tightness throughout the body. Thanks to these chilly affects, your muscles are forced to work much harder to complete the same tasks that are more easily accomplished in warmer conditions. With tighter muscles, your range of motion is significantly decreased and therefore, risk of injury is far greater. A sufficient warm up primes your muscles and central nervous system for exertion. To prepare you for your next workout, we teamed up with Will Poustchi from Head2Toe Fitness, to provide you with three stretching methods that will enhance your performance and aid your recovery.
1- Before Warmup
Before you begin your workout, start with some light cardio such as a brisk walk or light jog to raise your core temperature and ensure that oxygen and blood are circulating efficiently. You should typically do this for 3-6 minutes, and in the winter (if you are training outside) 6-10 minutes. Gradually build up the intensity as you go.
Dynamically stretching to help increase range of movement (ROM) and make it SPECIFIC
You should then add some dynamic stretching into your warm up to target the muscles you’ll be working. Dynamic stretching is simply moving functionally as you stretch. For example, a dynamic hip stretch with a twist - this opens up the hips and the groin while stretching the core, upper and middle back. Whether you are preparing for a heavy weight session or a kick around on the soccer field, the muscles involved have been activated and are ready to perform.
As mentioned, dynamic stretching improves your range of motion and can help you feel more limber and flexible. This free’s the body up from limitations and allows it more room to move, reducing the risk of ‘pulling a muscle’(or worse) and helps you maintain proper form in your exercises. Furthermore, dynamic stretching improves your mind and body awareness. Moving as you stretch will challenge your balance and coordination, preparing the brain to contract and relax different muscles as required. Warming up in motion will enhance your performance and power, which will help you to reach your goals, whether that’s to lift heavier, run faster or throw further. If you simply want to perform better, start including dynamic stretching into your warm up routine.
You should spend at least 5-10 minutes doing some specific dynamic stretching before your workout and even more if you are exercising outside during winter. Specific means that the dynamic movements you are doing will help you move or perform better in your upcoming workout/sport.
Statically stretch the opposing muscle(s)
A common mistake made during the middle of a workout, is to stretch the muscles being worked. Instead, the opposing - antagonist - muscle, should be the one that is stretched. For example, if you are working the upper back, you should stretch the chest muscles in between sets. Likewise, if you are working the quads, you should relive the hamstrings of tension. This process of super setting your stretches in muscle pairs actually relaxes the opposing muscle. More often than not, it is not tension in the muscles being worked that prevents maximum contractions but the tension in the opposing muscle. By stretching the antagonist, you will release tension build up which can shorten the muscle and as a result, increase your range of motion and better your performance.
It’s common sense really, when driving, you wouldn't put your foot on the gas while simultaneously applying the brakes…
3 - After
Statically stretch the worked muscle(s)
Cooling down is just as important as warming up, even in winter, but it is often overlooked and dismissed. We get it, you’ve just crushed a hellish workout, you’re fatigued, dripping with sweat and just want to hit the showers and head home for a much deserved post workout-meal. But think about your muscles for a second and what you have just put them through. They need to be relieved of their duty and given a head start in their recovery so they can work just as hard for you, if not harder, next time. A cool down helps the body relax and return to a steady state of rest and when executed properly, will assist your body in its repair process.
Historically, static stretching has been most commonly used and believed to be the right thing to do before, during and after your workout. Static stretching involves reaching to a point of tension and holding the stretch (stretch, hold, relax, release). However, this form of stretching actually shuts down the muscles and can decrease muscle strength by up to 9% for 60 minutes following the stretch. Therefore, statically stretching the working muscles should only be performed during a cool down and generally avoided prior to or during your workout phase.
Many people make the mistake of stretching too hard or too vigorously during their cool down. The aim here is not necessarily to improve your flexibility; it’s to gently lengthen out those muscles that have been constantly contracting during your workout and help reduce the cortisol flowing throughout your body. You should aim to spend 10+ minutes cooling down and perform a variety of low-intensity, static stretches for 30+ seconds each and remember to breathe!
Key pointsYou do not need to spend the same amount of time stretching as you do working out (that would be silly, unless you were in a Yoga class) but in order to reap the maximum amount of benefits from stretching, make sure to:
- Dynamically stretch to increase range of movement and ‘free up’ the muscles that you are about to use.. 15 + reps each of the chosen dynamic stretches (3+ movements)
- Static stretch the antagonist (opposite) muscle between working sets. Doing leg curls? Stretch your quads NOT your hamstrings. Stretching your hamstrings would be counterproductive. 15-45 seconds each.
- Static stretch to help reduce cortisol and aid recovery after a hard workout. 30+ seconds each chosen stretch.