The Warm-up and Stretching
The warm up is a crucial part of any exercise program. You need to warm up your muscles before doing anything else, including stretches. Working cold muscles can cause injuries. Warming up aids in lubricating the joints, increases blood flow in the body, and brings oxygen to the muscles preparing them for exertion.
Your warm up should include 5 – 10 minutes of cardio, such as running in place, jumping jacks or skipping rope. You can even do these or other cardio activities in combination. You want to raise your body temperature and increase your breathing by a small degree, but not to the point where you are too impaired to perform your stretches or your workout.
As previously mentioned (6 Great Tips to Improve Your Workout Experience), stretching before your workout is a good idea. Stretching increases flexibility and eases some of the stress on your joints and tendons during your exercise session.
The Cool Down
After a good workout, a cool down is vital to your body’s recovery. You need to slowly bring down your heart rate, slow your breathing, and allow your muscles to gradually relax. This brings your body back into balance, and can also prevent muscle cramps and undue soreness.
Your cool down should consist of some light cardio activity, like marching in place or walking in large circles, while gently shaking out your arms or doing alternating arm swings, all while you calm yourself and your breathing back down to a normal state. Once you can breathe easily, and your heart beat is back down to normal, it’s time to stretch out those tired muscles and help them to relax.
Here’s a few pointers:
- Your stretches should include all of the muscles that will be in use during the workout. Make sure to stretch both sides of your body evenly. For upper body workouts stretch your arms, chest, neck, back, and etc. For lower body workouts stretch your calves, quads,hamstrings, and etc. (I will provide examples below)
- Choose 1-2 stretches for each part of your body.
- Stretch slowly and smoothly. Don’t bounce or jerk your body.
- Don’t force the stretch. You should not feel pain during a stretch. Pain is an indicator that you are pushing your body beyond its limits and you are risking injury.
- Don’t hold your breath. Breathe through the stretches, inhaling and exhaling in conjunction with the movement.
- For warm-ups, use dynamic stretching. This means using stretches that move you smoothly through a full range of motion such as in shoulder rolls or arm circles.
- For cool downs, use static stretches. This means using stretches that you hold for 20 seconds or more. These types of stretches are great for increasing the blood flow to the muscles and reducing the possibility of muscle soreness or cramping.
Neck Stretch: In a comfortable standing position, with relaxed shoulders, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, while looking straight ahead. Breathing normally, hold the stretch for about 20 seconds. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale, roll your head to the other side. Now your left ear should be over your left shoulder. Breathing normally, hold the stretch for about 20 seconds. Repeat once or twice on each side equally, and end by gently rolling your head to the center, with your chin over your chest. Hold this last stretch for about 20 seconds.
Chest and Shoulder Stretch: In a comfortable standing position, interlace your fingers behind your back, palm to palm. Slowly reach down behind you, straightening your arms, and then reach away from your back as far as you can. Follow with shoulder and back stretch, and then repeat each one, for a total of four stretches.
Shoulder and Back Stretch: In a comfortable standing position, place your hands in front of you with your arms relaxed, and cross your wrists. Gently touch palm to palm, round your back, and squeeze your chest between your arms.
Chest stretch: In a comfortable standing position with feet shoulder width apart, interlace your fingers behind your head and reach your elbows toward the wall behind you. Bend slightly backward as you stretch.
Over Head Stretch 1: (Oblique & Upper Back ) In a comfortable standing position, lace your fingers together in front of your body. Turn your wrists out and reach up above your head. Shift your hips to the right as you reach to the left, then shift your hips to the left as you reach to the right. Come back to center. Rounding your back, reach out in front of you with your hands still clasped. Gently straighten up and release your hands.
Over Head Stretch 2: (Oblique) In a comfortable standing position with feet shoulder width apart, reach your right hand up and place your left hand alongside of your left leg. Shift your hips to the right as you bend sideways towards the left. After approx. 20 seconds, switch hands and repeat on the other side.
Triceps Stretch: In a comfortable standing position with feet shoulder width apart, reach your right arm up, bend the elbow, and let the hand fall behind your back while keeping the elbow elevated. Grab your right elbow over head with your left hand, and gently pull on the elbow. Switch hands after 20 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Shoulder rolls: In a comfortable standing position, roll your shoulders forward 5 times, then roll them backwards 5 times.
Arm Circles: In a comfortable standing position, with both arms straight out to your sides and your shoulders relaxed, turn your hands to face out with fingers pointed up, and move your arms in small circles backwards 12 times. Then, forward 12 times. Next, turn your hands down and circle them forward 12 times and then backwards 12 times. Mr. Miyagi would love these!
Arm Swings: In a comfortable standing position, swing your arms in alternating self-hugs. Right arm on top first, and then left on top, 10 – 15 times.
Quads: In a comfortable standing position with feet shoulder width apart, raise your right foot up behind you, and grab it with your right hand. You can use one hand to hold onto a chair for support or you can even grab your foot with both hands if you like. Knees should be in line with each other, and your foot should be close to your body. Make sure you stand up straight, and don’t lean forward. Hold for 20 seconds, then do the other leg. Repeat on both sides for a total of four stretches.
Lying down Quads: Lying flat on your back on a mat, with your legs out in front of, you flex both of your feet, and then bring one knee in up to your armpit. Keeping feet flexed, hold the position, then switch legs and repeat.
Downward dog – calf stretches: In a downward dog position, bend one knee while flexing the foot of your other leg, ’til you feel a gentle stretch in your calf. Switch sides, then repeat 4-5 times.
Hamstring Stretch: Lying flat on your back on a mat, with your legs out in front of you, flex both of your feet. Raise one leg straight up to the ceiling and, keeping shoulders on the floor, clasp your hands around your knee. Keep both legs as straight as you can for 20 seconds. Lower your leg, and repeat on the other side.
Seated Hamstring stretch (seated one leg toe touches): Sit on a mat with one leg out in front of you, and the other foot pulled in close to your body touching your thigh. Raise both of your arms over your head and inhale. As you exhale, reach both hands toward the toes of the outstretched leg. Grab on where ever you can (knee, shin, toes, or heel) depending on your flexibility. Hold for about 20 seconds. Repeat with other leg.
Seated Toe Touch (Hamstring/Calf): Sit on a mat with both feet straight out in front of you. Raise both of your arms over your head and inhale, as you exhale reach both hands toward the toes of the outstretched legs. Grab on where ever you can, knee, shin, toes or heal depending on your flexibility. Hold for about 20 seconds.
Standing pigeon (Hip Flexor): In a comfortable standing position with feet shoulder width apart, grab under your right ankle with both hands, and pull your foot up in front of you. Your knee should be bent outward, with your foot close to your left thigh. Hold for 5 seconds, then switch legs. Repeat for a total of 4 on stretches.
Deep Side lunges (Inner thigh): Lunge deeply to the right. Keeping your knee over your ankle, rest your right arm on your right leg. Hold for 5 seconds, then switch legs. Repeat for a total of 4 stretches.
Runners stretch (Inner thigh): Lunge forward, keeping your knee over your ankle. Place your hands on the floor, next to the instep of your front leg. Hold for 20 seconds then, switch legs and repeat.
Relaxed runners stretch (Quads): Lunge forward, keeping your knee over your ankle. Carefully drop the knee of your out stretched leg to the ground so that it lies in a comfortable position. Reach your hands to the ceiling, and gently arch your back. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Cobra (Back/Core): Lie down on a mat, face down. Place your hands on the mat, next to your chest on either side of you. Pinning your elbows to your sides, push up with your arms ’til your torso is raised off the floor, and look up. Do not hunch your shoulders. You may keep your knees on the mat, or raise them off. Your feet should remain in a relaxed position.
Child’s Pose (Back/Core): Sit on a mat with your feet underneath you. Bend forward at the waist, reaching your hands out in front of you ’til they are stretched in front of you on the mat, and your forehead is resting on the mat. Hold this pose for at least 20 seconds.
Child’s Pose to right and left (shoulders, arms, oblique and hips): From the child’s pose position, slide your hands to all the way to your left, placing your right hand on top of the left hand. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Then slide your hands all the way to your right, placing your left hand over your right hand, and hold the pose again.
Lying Torso Twist (Back/Core): Lying on your back on a mat, raise your right knee to your chest. Place your left hand on top of your right knee, and place your right arm out onto the floor next to you. Pull your right knee across your body to the left side, while you turn your head to the right. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Cat (Back/Core): On a mat, kneel on your knees. Place your hands on the mat, beneath your shoulders. Your arms should be straight, and your knees should be under your hips. Inhale deeply. As you inhale, bring your head up, and arch your back. Hold for 2 seconds, then exhale, dropping your chin to your chest, and curling your back up, like a Halloween cat. Repeat 3 more times.
Glute Stretch: Lie on your back on a mat, with your knees bent and both feet flat on the floor. Place the ankle of your right foot on your left knee. Reach through the hole between your legs with your right hand,reaching around the side of your left leg with your left hand, and clasp your hands in front of your left knee. Lay back, and pull back gently for about 20 seconds, then repeat with the other leg.