Warming Up and Stretching


warming up on a stationary bike

Performing a warm-up and stretching routine is a vital component of overall good health and fitness, and is strongly recommended before and after each and every strenuous weight training workout (or any other exercise routine for that matter).

In general, warming up will elevate the heart rate and increase the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body, thus preparing the body to be stretched. Stretching then prepares the soft tissue and joint of the body to safely perform a physical activity. It is important to remember that a warm-up routine is not the same as a stretching routine.

The pre-workout phase of your weight training routine can be broken down into two primary phases: a general warm-up phase and a stretching phase. You should perform your warm-up routine first, followed by your stretching routine.

Performing a warm-up routine involves the process of slightly raising your body temperature while increasing blood and oxygen circulation throughout your body. During the warm-up portion of your weight training workout, your body temperature should increase by one to two degrees Celsius. Once completed, you are ready to perform the stretching portion of your weight training routine.

By performing a stretching routine prior to your weight training exercise workout, you will increase the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the soft tissue (i.e. muscles) of your body. This will prepare your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and skeletal frame for the weight training routine that you are going to perform.

In addition, regularly performing a stretching routine will improve your joint flexibility and range or motion, decrease the probability of injury, relieve tension and stress, and even accelerate the healing process associated with several types of injuries.

The combined time required to perform a thorough warm-up and stretching routine is typically around 15 to 25 minutes. It should always be performed before and after your weight training routine. However, if you are pressed for time, eliminating 5 minutes or so from your stretching routine should be acceptable.

The Benefits of Performing a Good Warm-Up Routine


warming up on an elliptical machine

There are several benefits associated with consistently performing a warm-up routine prior to your actual weight training session. While many individuals view taking the time to warm up as a waste of time, the importance of getting in the habit of always warming up before your weight training routine (or any other exercise routine) cannot be overstated.

Individuals that regularly perform a weight training routine place their joints under a high level of strain.

In fact, joint injuries are quite common among serious weight lifters. This being said, taking the time to properly warm up will increase the flow of blood and oxygen to the joints and all soft tissue involved in performing a weight training routine.

Below is a list of several benefits associated with properly performing a warm-up routine prior to your actual weight training routine:

  1. Muscle Temperature Increases: Muscles that are properly warmed up before rigorous activity will be able to contract with more force, and relax at a faster rate after a contraction. With warmer muscles, your body's strength and speed will be increased. In addition, warming up before stretching can assist in helping to prevent overextending a muscle, and thus, causing an injury.

  2. Body Temperature Increases: Properly warming up will cause your body temperature to rise, making your muscles more elastic. Not only will your muscles be better able to perform, but a warmer body temperature can lower the probability of encountering a muscle pull or strain.

  3. Dilated Blood Vessels: Taking the time to warm up forces the blood vessels to dilate. This will reduce the tension that physical activity places on your heart, and increase blood flow throughout your body.

  4. Your Body is Able to Cool Down Faster: Warming up also triggers processes in the body (i.e. sweating, increased breathing rate) that assist in cooling down muscles and joints when they begin to get too hot. By performing a proper warm-up, you can reduce the effect that heat has on your muscles and joints when initially beginning your weight training routine.

  5. Blood Temperature Increases: Similar to your muscles and body, blood operates more efficiently when it is warmed up. As blood temperature rises, blood oxygen levels rise. With a more oxygenated blood stream, muscles receive larger volumes of nutrients and can function at a much greater level.

  6. Range of Motion Increases: By properly warming up, your joints will be more capable of extending safely throughout their full range of motion.

  7. Increases the Secretion of Hormones: When performing a warm-up routine, additional hormones are automatically secreted to provide your body with energy via additional carbohydrates and fatty acids. These additional hormones are crucial for a successful and productive workout.

  8. Increases Mental Focus: When performing a warm-up routine, the mind will enter a state of focus and preparation required for the exercises that you are about to perform. This increase in focus allows the mind to remain positive, relaxed, and with an increased level of concentration.

Tips for Properly Warming Up


A good warm-up routine should include a light cardiovascular activity that generally requires 5 to 10 minutes to perform. The light cardiovascular activity should be simple to perform and can range from jogging in place to jumping rope. In addition, cardiovascular machines such as a treadmill or recumbent bike are excellent choices for your warm-up routine.

Avoid occurrences where you complete your warm-up routine and have to wait before you are able to perform your actual exercise routine. Waiting more than 30 minutes between warming up and exercising can defeat the entire purpose of warming up in the first place. However, do not extend your warm-up routine to eliminate the idle time between your warm-up and workout routines. Instead, move the time that you perform your warm-up routine closer to the time that you are going to actually perform your exercise routine.

Avoid performing the exact same warm-up routine every time you exercise. Consider using your warm-up as a way to lightly exercise the muscles that are going to be exercised during your weight training routine. This approach will prepare your muscles for exactly the types of movements that they will be performing during your exercise routine. For example, if you are going to be performing an upper body weight training routine, you may want to consider warming up on a rowing machine. In another example, if you are going to be exercising your legs during your weight training routine, you may want to consider warming up on the treadmill or exercise bike.

The Benefits of Performing a Good Stretching Routine


Regularly performing a stretching routine should be a part of everyone's daily lifestyle. Whether young or old, regularly performing a well-rounded stretching routine will produce several health benefits. Below are just a few examples of the health benefits associated with performing a stretching routine

    leg stretch
  1. Reduces Tension in Your Muscles: When you first begin your exercise routine, your muscles are typically very tense. In fact, many soft tissue injuries are specifically caused by muscles that are not fully ready to extend and contract across their full range of motion. Performing a stretching routine will gently work your muscles throughout their full range of motion and prepare them for the movements they will perform during your actual exercise routine.

  2. Increases Your Range of Motion: By taking the time to properly perform your stretching routine, you will allow your joints to warm up without a high level of stress being placed on them. This will provide your joints with the ability to ready themselves for the stress they'll bear during your exercise routine, and will greatly reduce the probability of injury.

  3. Increases Muscle Coordination: In order to be effective, your muscles must work together to perform an exercise or movement. Stretching forces your entire body to work cohesively when performing each movement, and requires that the various muscles either extend or contract in unison. This concept is important in that it aids in the prevention of injuries and maximizes the efficiency of the body when performing various movements and exercises.

  4. Improves Blood Circulation: Stretching increases blood temperature and dilates the blood vessels. This will reduce the tension that physical exercise places on your heart, and will also allow your muscles to receive larger volumes of nutrients. The end result is that your body will be able to perform at a much higher level and for a longer period of time.

  5. Increase Energy Levels: It is a culmination of all the previously mentioned stretching benefits that provide an overall higher level of energy and a more effective way in which the energy can be used. When you stretch, additional hormones are automatically made available to provide your body with energy in the form of extra carbohydrates and fatty acids. These extra nutrients provide your body with an excess reserve of energizing compounds.

  6. Increase in Flexibility: Stretching before regular exercise sessions has the added benefit of improving your daily activities as well. Not only will a good stretching routine increase your productivity during your exercise workouts, but simple tasks like sitting, standing and walking become even easier when your muscles maintain a higher level of flexibility.

Tips for Properly Stretching


As with any type of physical activity, it is important to understand the intent of the activity and how best to perform it so that you can reduce the probability of injury and receive the maximum level of benefits. To this end, below are a few guidelines to consider when performing your stretching routine:

  • Stretch each set of muscles evenly. This balance is essential as stretching one side of your body fully and ignoring the other is counterproductive. For example, when you perform a stretching exercise on one leg, be sure to perform the exact same stretching exercise on the other leg.

  • Avoid stretching to the point of pain. While it is normal to feel a little tightness at the furthest extension of the stretching exercise, pain is not the intent of the stretching exercise.

  • Move through your stretches slowly. When maintaining each stretching exercise, relax the muscles and evenly balance the entire body. Upon releasing from the stretching exercise, slowly ease out of it and back to the starting position. In general, each stretching exercise should be held for 15 to to no more than 30 seconds.

  • Avoid bouncing or jerking. Doing so can extend your muscles past their point of comfortable extension and result in not only pain, but injuries related to a muscle strain or tear.

  • Pay close attention to your breathing. Many individuals tend to hold their breath when performing a stretching exercise. Instead, focus on taking deep and cleansing breaths that promote a relaxing of the entire body rather than short, labored, quick breaths.

Stretching Exercises To Try


Hamstring: While sitting, place your right leg directly in front of your body, and bend your left leg at the knee. The bottom of your left foot should be tucked to the inside of your right thigh. Bend toward your right leg at your waist and try to touch your right foot with your fingertips. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and switch to stretch the left leg.

Hip: Begin by lying on your back. Raise your right leg and grab it with your left arm. To maximize this stretching exercise, turn your head to the right. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and switch to stretch the left leg.

Lower Back: Begin by lying on your back. Your knees should be bent. Grasp your knees with your arms and gently pull them towards your head. To maximize this stretching exercise, lift your shoulders from the ground and begin rocking back and forth with your body. Perform this stretching exercise for 15 to 30 seconds.

Quadriceps Stretch: Begin by lying on the left side of your body with your left leg bent at the knee. Bend your right leg at the knee and grab your right ankle with your right hand. Pull your right ankle toward your rear end. Hold this stretching exercise for 15 to 30 seconds and switch to stretch the left quadriceps muscle.

Calf Muscle Stretch: Begin by standing a few feet from a flat wall. Move your right foot behind you about a foot and a half and place it on the floor while not bending at the knee. Place your hands on the wall and begin bending the left knee to stretch the right calf. Hold this stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and switch to stretching the left calf.

childs pose for lower back

As discussed in this article, and several additional articles throughout our website, regularly performing warm-up and stretching routines prior to your exercise routine readies the body and mind for the strenuous activity that is about to begin.

It is important to remember that taking the time to properly perform your warm-up and stretching routines will not only improve the quality and effectiveness of your actual workout, but reduce the likelihood of an injury as well.

In addition, while many individuals view their warm-up and stretching routines as simply a precursor to their actual workout, others take their stretching routine to the next level by regularly performing yoga and/or Pilates. Both yoga and Pilates are excellent forms of exercise and are designed to improve flexibility, balance, coordination, core strength and muscular tone, and calm and center the mind.

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