We all know the importance of warming up and cooling down—so why do so many of us skimp on our stretching? Maybe you’re eager to begin your workout so you do a couple static stretches, shake out your legs, and then start with completely cold, tight muscles. I’ve been there, and I have a laundry list of injuries to show for it! That’s why I’m going to make sure you have an effective, diverse, and entertaining way of stretching that’s guaranteed to greatly reduce your risk of injury.
First, you need to get the blood circulating and warm the muscles. Some light cardio that doesn’t exhaust all your energy is an optimal way to start your warmup. Riding the stationary bike, speed walking or jogging, taking a swim, and jump rope all provide great ways to accomplish this. Continue performing cardio until you feel warmed up and the muscles are loose. And while there’s no time limit, I wouldn’t recommend going for longer than ten minutes.
Next comes dynamic stretching, which both promotes blood flow to the muscles and lubricates the joints. Dynamic stretching involves performing slow and methodical movements, usually for 10-15 repetitions. While having a predetermined routine for performing dynamic stretches is safe and reliable, the best movements are going to vary depending on your upcoming workout. Someone doing heavy squats would want to perform butt kicks, knee raises, leg swings, and other stretches that hit the muscles of the legs and glutes, while someone doing heavy shoulder presses may want to start with arm circles and have a more shoulder-centric stretch routine.
The final step in warming up is band work—my secret sauce for joint health. I had a long bout of elbow tendonitis from playing tennis, and consistently doing band work resolved my joint pain in a matter of weeks. Take a looped band of 10-15lbs resistance and perform the following holds for 20-30 seconds each, repeating three times.
- At shoulder height and with a shoulder width grip, pull hard on either side of the band.
- Allow your arms to fall at your sides and hold the band at shoulder width behind your back, with your palms facing away. Again, try pulling the band apart.
- Placing your foot over the band, use one hand (palm down) to curl your arm towards your shoulder as far as it will go.
- Last, fold the band in half and hold it in front of you, keeping it perpendicular with the floor. Then pull hard with one arm going towards the sky and the other pulling toward the floor.
After your workout the muscles will start to tighten up and you may experience adaptive muscle shortening. In order to avoid this, we perform static stretches. Static stretches are most often held between 10 and 30 seconds, but I’ve learned that holding them for upwards of a minute seems to work best for most trainees. As a rule of thumb, hold the stretch until you feel loose—and not by looking at the clock. In contrast to dynamic stretching, it’s usually optimal to have a set routine when doing static stretching. Even if some muscles were not used, they still need to be kept loose.
After static stretching, heat should be applied by taking a warm bath or shower to improve blood circulation and reduce lactic acid buildup. Conversely, if the muscles are swollen or strained, ice should be applied to reduce swelling. In both cases additional relief, like NSAIDs, topical cannabidiol oil, or compression wraps are reasonable options to aid in recovery.
If you can, try getting yourself a deep tissue massage after bathing to loosen the muscle fibers and break down fascia. Alternative methods include foam rolling, self-massage, rolling with a tennis ball, or using a massage chair. The entire warm up and cool down sessions should collectively occupy about an hour of your routine. And, considering it takes weeks or months to recover from injuries, it’s well worth that time.