Youniverse Contributor Heather Hesington
How many gym-goers really take the time to stretch and prepare their bodies for an intense workout every visit?
Stretching may seem like a waste of time to some, but even taking a few short minutes to warm up and cool down your muscles will do wonders for your body and overall health.
Skipping that crucial 5-10 minutes before throwing your body into a variety of exercises could result in extra muscle stiffness, soreness, cramps, and even injury. Without proper warm up or stretching, muscles may not recover from strenuous workouts like running, fast-paced group fitness classes, and especially heavy lifting.
Of course, different people and different types of workouts could require individualized prep routines. If discovering a personalized routine of prep and corrective exercises is something that interests you, YouCoaches are available to provide advice to target problem areas and to help you reach your fitness goals.
Today, let’s focus on prepping and stretching with a variety of general exercises anyone could do to warm-up their muscles before a workout.
Have you ever used a foam roller?
Foam rolling (also known as self-myofascial release or SMR massage) uses bodyweight compression to roll out fixed knots or muscle pains that develop in deep tissue. The hard cylinders come in all different sizes and intensities that you can usually find at your local sporting goods store. Some are even gridded to trigger pressure points.
Any fitness professional would recommend investing in a foam roller to use at home, and if nothing else, encourage clients to take advantage of the supply available at the gym!
Foam rolling is an important part of warming up your muscles for stretching. The concept of warming up to warm-up might seem unnecessary, but I assure you it’s not. Think of your body as clay. The only way to move and stretch it is to warm it up, right? Foam rolling helps loosen the body up while relaxing knots and slowly releasing tight areas.
Below are a handful of exercises to try on your foam roller.
Each position should be rolled about 20-30 seconds. Keep your stomach tight and think of pulling your belly button back to your spine. If you hit a tender spot, pause on it for about 10-12 seconds. Readjust your position (if needed) and continue on with the exercise.
Calf (Lower Leg)
Sit on the floor with the foam roller under your ankles. Cross one leg over the other and lift yourself off of the floor to apply pressure. Slowly move back and forth on the roller from your ankles up until the top of your calf. Switch legs and repeat.
Start by sitting on the foam roller with your buttocks directly on top of it. Slowly roll down to the knee, back and forth and slightly to the side. Increase or decrease the intensity of this exercise by using one or both legs at a time. Roll with your feet turned in and out to cover the entire muscle group.
Turn over to a face down position and place the foam roller right above the knees. Keeping the quadriceps relaxed, slowly roll from your knees to hips.
Sit on the roller, leaning to one side. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and position the roller on your glute while placing one hand behind you for support. Slowly roll the backside of your hip.
Thoracic Spine (Upper Back)
Place the foam roller under your upper back. Keep your knees bent and feet on the ground. Put your hands behind your head and let your head fall to the floor as you roll back and forth. Slowly roll up and down the vertebrae, pausing on any spots with tension. Avoid rolling the neck.
Now that your muscles are waking up, it’s time to move into static stretching, or exercises that lengthen the muscles while your body is at rest. This is where you can really dig into those muscles and prepare them for the work coming their way.
If you are properly performing a static stretch, you should go far enough into the position to feel a slight discomfort, but no pain. Exhale as you go into a stretch, and avoid holding your breath while you’re there. Breathe normally and never bounce!
Below is a series of exercises anyone at any level could do to get their muscles ready to work out.
Place your palms on a sturdy surface like a wall or beam. Place one leg behind the other, pressing your back heel into the floor. The front leg is in a forward lunge position while the back leg is fully extended. Keeping your heel down, slowly lean forward.
Stand with your feet together and then step one foot back about two feet. Lower your hands to the floor, keep your nose pressed in towards the direction of your knee, and bend your back leg to intensify the stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
With the support of a sturdy surface like a wall or a beam, stand on one leg and raise the other foot behind you while bending the knee. Pull the foot as close to the buttocks as possible. Use the same hand to hold the foot (example: left hand holds the left foot), or intensify the stretch by using the opposite hand to hold the foot. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Get on the floor and in a kneeling position on the right knee with your toes down. Place the left foot flat on the floor in front of you, with the knee bent and in line with the ankle. Place the hands on your hips or on left thigh. Slowly press your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your right thigh. Try not to let your lower back arch. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Lie on your back and cross your left ankle over your right knee. Both legs are bent throughout the exercise. Slowly pull behind your right leg towards your right shoulder, hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Adductor (Inner Thighs)
Start standing with your feet wide and parallel. Sink down into one side by bending the knee you’re moving towards and keeping the other straight until you feel a stretch in the groin. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Stand in the middle of a door way or in front of a beam with one foot slightly in front of the other. Bend your elbow at a 90 degree angle and place your forearm on the beam (or on the side of the door way). Lean forward, bringing your weight to the front leg until you feel a stretch in your chest. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Perform a similar stretch as the Pectoralis (pictured above), only bring your front foot further out and extend the arm from a 90 degree angle to a straight stretch. Lean forward until you feel a good stretch, hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
Stand tall and reach your right arm overhead. Grab the right elbow with the left hand and place the right palm of your hand on the center of your back. Keep the shoulders relaxed and reach your fingertips down your spine. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
When talking to athletes, personal trainers, and older active adults, one piece of advice they will consistently offer is to make stretching before and after your workouts a priority. I wholeheartedly agree!
I have heard “If there’s one thing I wish I did more of when I was younger, it would be stretching,” numerous times, and can only hope you take the suggestion as seriously as I do.