You’re eating a balanced diet, you’re getting plenty of rest, you’re drinking enough water, and you’re hitting the gym every other day. You think you’re doing everything right with your exercise routine, but are you stretching properly, too?
Our team of sports medicine specialists at Ani Orthopedics with the Orthopaedic & Spine Institute of New Jersey advises anyone who engages in physical activity for any reason to take care of themselves with proper stretching before starting exercise, sports, or physically demanding work. These five important tips can help you maintain your daily routine, keep your muscles safe, and avoid injury.
1. Never skip your warm-up
Your warm-up is essential to a safe and effective workout or performance in a sport. Stretching before physical activity helps your muscles to stay flexible and strong. It also protects your joints, ensuring the best flexibility for your activity.
Keeping muscles flexible is important because it helps you to make the sudden movements, lifting, and sprinting that usually comes with physical activity. It’s generally a good idea to start your warm-up with a gentle walk, easing into a brisk walk. This gets blood flowing to your lower extremities, which helps with the rest of your warm-up. You can also march in place or perform hip circles.
Once the muscles and tendons in your legs are looser, you can begin proper stretching. Starting with your lower extremities, use stretches that include your thighs, calves, and hamstrings. After you’ve spent a few minutes stretching your legs, stretching your arms should be easier. Upper body stretching is best done in a standing position, and be sure to give yourself room for movement, such as arm swings.
You have several options to warm up your core and back muscles, both of which support your spine and back health. You can effectively warm up those muscles while lying down or standing up.
Try to hold your stretches for 30 seconds at a time. If you can only manage 10 seconds for every stretch, that’s OK! Staying consistent allows you to increase your endurance, which can help you to perform deeper stretches when they’re more comfortable for you.
2. Put some pep in your stretch
There’s no need to wait until you’re fully into your exercise routine to listen to music, empowering recordings, or meditation leader. Seek out motivational sounds that get you moving into your workout or game.
For another option, if it’s helpful and possible, contact someone who lives close by when it’s time to stretch. You can keep each other accountable and get more out of your stretching and exercise when you associate it with fun and friends.
3. Keep your focus
Try to stretch in a place that’s free of distractions that might hamper your ability to focus on stretching. One of the greatest benefits of stretching is that it forces you to pay attention to your body and how it’s feeling.
It’s important to note which stretches aren’t comfortable or make you feel sore. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re injured, it helps you know where to be careful as you continue to your physical activity.
4. Stretch every day, even when you’re not active
It’s important to stretch consistently, even when you don’t plan to be especially physically active on a given day. Part of the reason this is helpful is because even without the benefit of intentional physical activity on that day, your body is prepared if circumstances change.
It’s also important because consistent stretching leads to greater flexibility, which protects your joints.
5. Remember: Cooling down is cool
After your workout, you might feel tired and consider just walking away from the end of your physical activity to be your cool-down. However, the end of your workout should also be a time to stretch. Just as proper warm-up stretching can prepare your muscles for the strain of exercise, stretching after your workout can help you prevent injury.
As you exercise, your muscles may become sore. This is due, in part, to the ripping of muscle fibers as you move, pass the ball, or run. Cool-down stretches help your muscles rid themselves of the toxins and lactic acid that build up in muscle and cause soreness. Cooling down also helps prevent uncomfortable stiffness, which can last for days in some people.
Talk with a sports medicine specialist
At Ani Orthopedics, we know that even with a perfect warm-up and cool-down, sports injuries can still happen. If you have questions about properly warming up your muscles, or if you need to see a provider about a possible injury, call us at one of our three offices or book an appointment with us online today.