Why You Need to Know the Difference Between Stretching and Warming Up

training-603981_1920As the New Year began, you may have started a new exercise regime or class.  Whether you’re new to exercise or not, many people, especially if pressed fro time tend to skip the warm-up, figuring the main workout is what really counts. Warming up before exercise is neither the fun nor glamorous part of your routine, but forgoing it sets you up to decrease your performance and increase risk of injury.

Many people get to the gym and start doing a few static stretches before they get going.  You may not know that stretching and warming up is not the same thing. You may think stretching is a warm-up, but this is a common mistake. In fact, stretching before an activity is not doing much for you at all.

What the Research Says

Traditionally, it was thought that you should stretch before strenuous activity to reduce the risk of injury.

Studies have shown stretching before activity does nothing for the reduction of injuries.  According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, injuries are believed to occur during the eccentric phase of contraction, which is part of a muscle’s normal range of motion.  If injuries occur during the normal range of motion, then why would increasing that range of motion prevent injuries?  So, if stretching before activity is not going to help prevent injuries, what is the answer?

What to Do Before a Workout

It is really simple.  Warm-up in a way that is specific to the activity in which you plan to participate.  Here’s something profound, a warm-up must actually make you warm.  The goal is to slightly raise your body temperature, just enough so you break a sweat. This, in turn, allows for less strains, tears, and sprains and results in a safer, more efficient workout.

Then consider that the warm up must match the movements you will be doing during your more strenuous activity. Perhaps an easier way to think of this is with weight training. If your workout calls for weighted squats, then a good warm-up would be body weight squats. This begins to activate the muscles around the hip, knee, ankle, and core.

Remember, the goal is to warm up with the same movements or as close as you can get to the actual movements required by your workout or sport.

Examples of versatile warm up moves that can be performed before most workouts include: jumping jacks, arm circles, walking lunges, butt kicks, air squats, and trunk rotations.  Start out with 30 seconds of each move.

The Takeaway

In order to get the most out of your exercise session, focus on warm-up movements that mirror the movements of the activities in which you plan to do. Do as many reps as you need until you feel ready.  Save foam rolling or static stretching for after training or at night. Unless you are a professional athlete, your training time is limited. By following the steps above, you will place your body in the right situation in the time you do have for increased performance and reduced risk of injury.

*Also, in winter your warm up is even more critical. We are in the middle of the season of tight, cold muscles and decreased mobility.  For optimum performance all winter long and an injury-free return to spring, a serious warm-up is your best friend.

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