Exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, but proper warm-ups and stretching are necessary in order to prevent serious injuries when exercising. Are warm-ups and stretching included in your usual routine? If not, it’s time to do something about it, because protecting yourself against knee, back, or other pain is worth the extra effort.
To illustrate this, Jessica Stepien, PT, DPT at the Virginia Therapy & Fitness Center explains, “One of the most common injuries to runners is ‘runner’s knee’ or patellofemoral pain syndrome.” You are automatically at a higher risk of developing this condition when you “have weak quadriceps or gluteals, overpronate during running, [or do] inadequate stretching.” Bottom line, the smarter you train, the better you’ll feel!
With that in mind, below are some of the best ways to begin and end a workout to protect your spine, muscles, and joints.
1. Make Five-Minute Warm-Ups a Habit
Whether you’re running, doing aerobics, playing sports, or lifting weights, always take the time to warm-up your body before increasing intensity. Make a simple, five-minute warm-up time a consistent habit in your exercise routines. “A smart warm-up gives your muscles, bones, and joints a chance to loosen up. It gradually and gently brings up your heart rate and makes it easier to get into the rhythm you want to sustain so you can run feeling energized enough to go longer and finish feeling exhilarated and excited to set out for your next workout,” says Jennifer Van Allen at Runner’s World. For this short warm-up period, try walking or light jogging to begin to elevate your heart rate and loosen muscles.
2. Engage in Dynamic Stretching
Rather than walking for five minutes and jumping into high-intensity training, aim to gradually increase your workout’s intensity. Start with five minutes of walking or jogging, move into dynamic stretching, and keep increasing intensity. By easing into intense workouts, you’ll make it less likely to get injured. Some examples of dynamic stretches include:
- Skipping: More than a way for kids to play at recess, skipping is a great exercise for loosening the muscles and improving range of motion.
- Leg Swings: Front-to-back and sideways leg swings are great dynamic stretches that involve broad range of motion.
- Lunges: Do a few lunges on either side of your body. Next, move into jumping lunges.
- Arm Swings: Swing your arms back-and-forth across your body for a few minutes to open your chest and shoulders.
- Twists: Warm up your lower back by rotating your torso to alternating sides.
3. Save Static Stretches for After Your Workout
You may have seen someone else reaching for his or her toes before exercise, but don’t let that confuse you. Static stretches are best reserved for the end of your exercise routine. “Unfortunately, just doing static stretching before a workout can overextend muscles and actually rob them of the power and strength necessary for your actual workout,” says Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness. The best time to put tension on your muscles is when they are warmest and loosest, such as after an extended exercise period.
4. Cross-Train When Possible
Individual exercises will put a great deal of pressure on particular muscle groups, which is why cross-training (i.e., varying the parts of the body you exercise) can be so helpful. Running, for example, tends to put repeated stress on the back, leading to lower-back issues. Prevent overuse and back damage by varying your workout routine with other types of exercises, too.
Whether you’ve experienced exercise-related injuries or are thinking preventatively to keep them from happening, use the four tips above as a great place to start. When you know how to warm up, practice dynamic stretching, avoid static stretching before workouts, and alternate your workout routine, you’ll be much less likely to sustain damage to your back, knees, and other body parts.
About the Author:
Dr. Thomas Schuler, founder of the Virginia Spine Institute and named among the 100 Best Spine Surgeons and Specialists in America, is a recognized leader in the treatment of cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine disorders. Revolutionizing spinal health care in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, Dr. Schuler has introduced innovative techniques for artificial disc replacement, minimally invasive spine surgeries, disc regeneration treatments, and robotic-guided surgeries.