As the weather gets warmer, sometimes our attention to stretching diminishes simply because our muscles already feel “warmed up.” But this can be dangerous for anyone whether you are a competitive athlete or just out for a non-strenuous afternoon hike. The research has changed throughout the years and what was once yielded as the best way to warm-up has drastically changed as we’ve discovered more about the mechanics of our bodies. The school of thought for a long time was to stretch before your workout, basically forcing your cold muscles to warm up without any notice. This is no longer recommended as it can cause injuries and diminish your overall performance. Instead, giving your body a mild aerobic intro gets blood flow to the tissue, so the muscles are warmed up and ready for the demands of stretching. A five-minute slow jog or a brisk walk is recommended, which will increase the blood flow and get the muscle fibers nice and warm. Technique is important when stretching and dynamic stretches are considered more effective than remaining still and holding a stretch for a period. Dynamic stretching is stretching where motion is involved. Consider trying some of the following dynamic stretches after your five-minute aerobic warm-up and keep in mind if you are recovering from an injury, it’s best to speak with your doctor or physical therapist before trying anything new.
Lean lunges help to loosen up your hips and psoas muscles while simultaneously activating the calves, gluteus muscles and hamstrings. You lean into a basic lunge while moving forward while raising the arm of the leg you have stretched out in the lunge. This should be done with slow, controlled movement to avoid injury.
This stretch is essential because your shoulder joint has the most range of motion of any joint in the human body, and not warming it up properly could result in injuries. Doing this stretch without added weight is effective or you can add a little weight by holding hand weights, dumbbells or weight plates to increase the demand on the muscles. Circling each arm in forward circles for several reps and then doing backward circles for the same amount of reps, gives your muscles a chance to warm-up throughout the entire joint.
Front to Back Leg Swing
The leg swing is relatively easy to do and focuses stretching on the hamstrings and quads. Support yourself with one arm while swinging your opposite leg forward then backward. The idea is to keep your leg straight as it moves forward and stretches the hamstring, then as it comes back and bends, try kicking yourself in the butt, which will stretch your quads. The muscles will start to warm up with each swing, so you can try to extend the stretch a bit further as you increase in reps, keeping in mind you don’t want to overstretch and cause an injury.
The Power Skip
Most of us learned to skip at an early age and some of us probably haven’t done it since grade school, but this stretch exercise is one of the best full-body stretches you can do. To get the most out of your power skip, you want to skip across a flat field or park, preferably on grass so it’s a softer landing, and you want to focus on reaching for height rather than distance with each skip. Reach the opposite arm high into the air as your opposite leg comes up towards your chest, bringing your quad to a 90-degree angle. Use your other leg to push off the ground and shoot up into the air, reaching as high as you can go with your arm. Alternate legs and do 20 skips on each side.
Giving your body the proper warm-up helps increase your overall performance and shields you from potential injuries that might occur because of a cold muscle snapping or tearing. Dynamic stretching is a fantastic way to get your body in the mood for any physical activity by focusing blood flow to the tissues that will be called upon during your exercise. It’s important to know your body and not push yourself beyond your limits when exercising. Please consult with a physician or physical therapist before trying something new if you’ve had a recent injury, some stretching exercises might not be beneficial for your injury recovery and could potentially cause more damage if done incorrectly.