Four great ways to keep your body functioning at its best
Q: I’m very confused about how and when to warm up for my weight training workouts. I have read about several different techniques using regular stretching, ballistic stretching and foam rolling but am not sure how and when to use each for best results. Can you clear this issue up for me? What should I do first and how do I use each for optimal results?
A: In the old days, conventional wisdom said stretching before working out was the best way to improve performance and prevent injury, but things have changed. Current research has proven there are better ways to loosen up and stay healthy. Here are four great techniques to achieve these goals and when to incorporate them into your training.
Dynamic stretching before workouts
One of my favorite preworkout activities to loosen muscles and prepare the nervous system for a great workout is dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is like combining a warm-up and stretching routine by performing a series of controlled movements, like leg and arm swings, that slowly moves you closer to your maximum range of motion with sports-specific movements. This type of warm-up is generally used by athletes, but I’ve found it to be invaluable for people of all levels. I usually perform dynamic stretches after a brief warm-up of 8-10 minutes of light cardio and before weight training, when the body’s core temperature is up and the joints are lubricated.
Static stretching after workout
I firmly believe stretching is a very important part of any workout routine, but I prefer it to be done a couple of hours after a workout when the person is relaxed, the muscles are not full of blood and it doesn’t impact the strength or performance of the trainee. It can also be done on off days when you can concentrate on increasing range of motion and keeping tighter areas of the body in check. Don’t get me wrong; stretching is a very important part of preventing injury and preparing the body for physical activity, but timing is crucial, and stretching before a workout is more likely to enact the stretch relax, causing the muscle to tighten up instead of loosening.
Foam rolling for preventative maintenance
The best way to prevent and treat trigger points or muscle knots is to use an inexpensive device called a foam roller. A foam roller is a 6-inch piece of tubular foam that allows you to roll or massage the affected areas, flattening and lengthening the muscles and causing the trigger points to release and return to their regular shape. You can start by resting a portion of your body weight on the foam roller and progress to resting all of your body weight on the roller for optimum results.
Now let me warn you, this will be very uncomfortable at first, and you may only be able to do a couple repetitions for each affected area, but if you’re consistent, the pain will begin to subside and you will be amazed at the results.
One of the most overlooked parts of a proper workout is the cooldown. The cooldown is a brief period of time at the end of the workout when the intensity is slowly decreased to allow the body to return to its normal state. During this time, the blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate will return to normal, and the body will begin the recovery process. Cooldowns will also prevent dizziness and passing out due to blood pooling and will help the body get rid of waste products produced by hard workouts. The average cooldown should last 60-90 seconds and should be easy and comfortable to complete. Good examples include a light walk after a run, jogging after sprinting or dynamic stretches or calisthenics after weight training.
Just as a vehicle requires proper care and maintenance, so does your body if you want it to perform at an optimal level and remain injury free. Give the above techniques a try, but be sure to do them at the right times for best results.