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Importance of warming up and stretching

Warming up and stretching prior to exercising is important in many ways. A good warm up will gradually build up your heart rate, increase blood flow to muscles while mentally preparing you for your activity.

The term ‘warm-up’ describes a range of light, low level movements and activities, such a s walking and jogging in place and its main aim is to gradually get your body up to the level of your chosen activity.

Warming up forms part of your mental preparation too, Easing your mind into the workout. This is especially useful of you are to engage in strenuous forms of exercise such as heavy weightlifting, an aerobics class or cycling up hills.

There are various ways you can warm up dependent on the form of exercise or workout. Quite often warm up actives are simply a replication of the exercise you are about to do but a much slower pace. For example if you are going for a brisk run you may start with light jogging to warm the legs, the area of the body that will do most of the work. If you play specific sports you may need to concentrate on focusing your warm up on a particular muscle group or area of the body. For example if you play basketball you may focus on the shoulders and back. However it is good practice to at least do a general all over body warm up.

So what is the difference between warming up and stretching? Warming up and stretching tend to be done at the same time but are two distinct principles. Both are very important to safe, enjoyable and effective workouts. Warming up essentially warms the body up ready for exercise whilst stretching specifically focuses on the stretching of the muscles. Warm up should always be done first followed by a stretching routine. Stretching has to be done correctly to have any benefit and to avoid injury, though so here are a few tips on how to stretch properly.

Stretching should never hurt. If you have reached a point in your stretch where it hurts, relax and hold where it feels more comfortable.

Maintain and hold the stretch for 10 – 30 seconds. Holding a stretch for less time wont sufficiently lengthen the muscles. Holding a stretch too long may also have a negative impact.

Remember to breathe. Correct breathing in time with exertion is key to most physical activity and sport, this is also the case when stretching. Steady consistent breathing, will aid blood flow but is also a good indicator that you are not over stretching or not holding your breath due to pain or exertion.

Try to stretch regularly, obviously before exercise but even if you are not exercising try to stretch at least 3 times per week.

The cool down should almost be a reversal of the warm up, gradually scale down the activity and finish off with some stretching.

Your cool down routine should can vary depending on the workout but generally the purpose of the cool down is to:

slow the heart rate to close to a normal resting rate
return breathing to a normal resting rate
avoid muscles soreness and stiffness
reduce the risk of light-headedness
Help prevent getting tired too quickly

The cool down should involve some light aerobic activity, like slow jogging after had more strenuous run. Some light stretching may also be involved.

Whether you are new to working out or an avid sportsman, adding a quality, warm-up, stretching and cooling down routine to your exercise program will give you the best chance to avoid injury and help performance.
Warm up
Make sure you Warm up and stretch properly before exercising to prevent injury and make your workouts more effective.
This warm-up and stretching routine should take 5 to 10 minutes. Warm up for longer if you feel the need to.

Start by marching on the spot for at least 3 minutes: Start by marching on the spot and them marching back and forth. Pump your arms up and down in rhythm with your steps keeping your elbows bent. Knee lifts, aim for 30 to 40 knee lifts in 30 – 60 seconds

To do knee lifts, simply stand tall and bring up alternate knees to touch the opposite hand. Keep your abs (stomach) and back straight. Keep a slight bend in the supporting leg.

Shoulder Rolls – 2 or 3 sets of 10 repetitions To Shoulder roll, keep marching on the spot then roll your shoulders forward five times and then back five times then let your arms hang loose and repeat.

Knee bends – 2 or 3sets of 10 repetitions To do knee bends, stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands stretched out. Lower yourself no more than 10cm by bending your knee. Come back up and repeat. Twist your upper body – 2 to 3 sets of 10 repartitions

To stretch your upper body, place your hands on your hips and move your upper body left and right. Try rotating your body clockwise and anticlockwise

Arm circles – 2 or 3 sets of 10 repetitions Circle your arms from one side to another, slowly increasing the tempo. Make sure you take deep breaths as you raise your hands in the air. When you exhale try bending over and quickly moving your hands towards the ground.

Skipping or jumping rope – 1 – 3 minutes Many use skipping as part of their warm up routine. This warm up exercise will increase your heart rate, however can pt some pressure on muscles and joints so ideally skipping should be done after a good warm and stretching routine.

Jumping Jacks – 1 set for 60 seconds Again jumping jacks should be performed towards the end of the warm up routine. They really get your heart rate up and blood pumping to the muscles, ready for the workout.

Try Imitating the exercise moves Try more specific movement based on the exercise workout you are about to do.

Once you have warmed up a full stretching routine should be performed. Here are 10 basic stretches

The Calf Stretch, (the calf muscle runs along the back of the lower leg. ·
Stand at arm’s length from a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment
· Place your right foot behind your left foot.
· Slowly bend your left leg forward, keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor.
· Hold your back straight and your hips forward. Don’t rotate your feet inward or outward.
· Hold for about 30 seconds.
· Switch legs and repeat.
·To deepen the stretch, slightly bend your right knee as you bend your left leg forward.
[img ‘stretching1.jpg’]
Your hamstring muscle runs along the back of your upper leg. To stretch your hamstring muscles:
Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or a door frame.
Raise your left leg and rest your left heel against the wall. Keep your left knee slightly bent.
Gently straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.
As your flexibility increases, maximize the stretch by gradually scooting yourself closer to the wall or door frame.
Your quadriceps muscle runs along the front of your thigh. To stretch your quadriceps muscles:
Stand near a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment for support.
Grasp your ankle and gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh.
Tighten your stomach muscles to prevent your stomach from sagging outward, and keep your knees close together.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.
[img ‘stretching2.jpg’]
Your hip flexors — which allow you to lift your knees and bend at the waist — are located on your upper thighs, just below your hipbones. To stretch your hip flexors:
Kneel on your right knee, cushioning your kneecap with a folded towel.
Place your left foot in front of you, bending your knee and placing your left hand on your left leg for stability.
Place your right hand on your right hip to avoid bending at the waist. Keep your back straight and abdominal muscles tight.
Lean forward, shifting more body weight onto your front leg. You’ll feel a stretch in your right thigh.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.
The iliotibial band (ITB) is a band of tissue that runs along the outside of your hip, thigh and knee. To stretch your ITB:
Stand near a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment for support.
Cross your left leg over your right leg at the ankle.
Extend your left arm overhead, reaching toward your right side. You’ll feel a stretch along your left hip.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch sides and repeat.
[img ‘stretching3.jpg’]
If the back of your shoulder is tight, you may be more likely to develop rotator cuff problems — especially if you golf or participate in overhead racket or throwing sports, such as tennis or baseball. To keep your shoulders flexible:
Bring your left arm across your body and hold it with your right arm, either above or below the elbow.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch arms and repeat.

Your shoulder’s internal rotators are part of the group of muscles often used in overhead sports. To stretch these muscles:

Grasp a rolled-up towel firmly with both hands, as shown.
Gently pull the towel toward the ceiling with your top hand. You’ll feel a stretch in the shoulder of your opposite arm as your lower hand is gently pulled farther up your back.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch hands and repeat.

[img ‘stretching4.jpg’]
To stretch your neck:
Bend your head forward and slightly to the right.
With your right hand, gently pull your head downward. You’ll feel a nice, easy stretch along the back left side of your neck.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Repeat on the opposite side.

Stretching the muscles in your upper back can promote good posture. To stretch these muscles:
Stand in a relaxed position with your arms extended in front of you, parallel to the floor (top image).
Pull your shoulder blades together behind you, bending your arms slightly at the elbows. You’ll notice that your arms spread a little wider as you do this (bottom image).
Hold about 30 seconds
Repeat as desired.

The knee-to-chest stretch focuses on the muscles of your lower back. Don’t do this stretch if you have osteoporosis because it may increase the risk of compression fractures in your vertebrae. To do this stretch:

Lie on your back on a firm surface with the backs of your heels flat on the floor.
Gently pull one knee up to your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back.
Bring the knee as close to your chest as comfortably possible.
Keep the opposite leg relaxed in a comfortable position, either with your knee bent or with your leg extended.
Hold for about 30 seconds.
Switch legs and repeat.