To improve flexibility, mobility, balance and to avoid injury it is best to warmup and stretch before and after your workouts. Although often performed together, warming up and stretching each prepare your body for exercise in different ways. Your warm-up slowly increases your heart rate, revs up your cardiovascular system and literally raises your internal body temperature and the temperature of your muscles while increasing blood flow to your muscles.
Stretching prepares muscles, joints and ligaments for physical activity by lengthening muscle fibers and prevents injuries. The combination of warming up and stretching may also help reduce muscle soreness after exercise and lessen your risk of injury. Cooling down after your workout allows for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. Stretching also helps improve breathing, circulation of your blood and respiratory efficiency. It also helps improve your posture by stretching your lower back, shoulders and chest and it reduces muscular tension due to stress.
Start with a light cardio warm up with 5-10 minutes of walking, cycling, etc., and then stretch after your muscles and joints are prepared. You can also do stretching exercises at the end of your full cardio workout. Avoid stretching cold muscles which can cause or lead to injuries.
If you are performing resistance training, boxing, kickboxing or bootcamp style workout that involves a lot of punching and kicking, and you skip your warm up and stretches, you can shock your muscles and cause major pain and soreness. To prevent this pain and injury, here are a few stretches to do before and after every workout:
Shoulder And Arm Rotations – Start with your arms up perpendicular to your sides and do small and gentle circles ( 2 sets of 10 forward and backwards). Make the circles bigger each time to involve the shoulders.
Slow Mountain Climbers – Start in a pushup position, pick up your right foot and slowly bring the knee toward the right shoulder, hold it for about 3 seconds and return to your start position. Then alternate legs until you have done 8-12 reps per leg).
Arm Crossovers – Begin on your back and turning to the left, now bend your knees about 90 Degrees and now stretch both arms in front of you with your palms facing each other – keeping your left arm and both legs in position, now rotate your torso to the right until your right hand and upper back are flat on the floor, now hold it for 5 seconds and return to start position. Do about 10-12 reps on each side.
To warm up for running or similar cardio training, follow this three-step method.
1. Walk. Walk gently for three to five minutes.
2. Strides. Do a minimum of six 100-meter strides.
3. Dynamic stretches. Save the static stretches (holding a muscle in an elongated, fixed position for 30 seconds or more) for your cooldown. Instead, dynamic, moving stretches take your body through entire ranges of motion that will better prepare you for your workout. Dynamic stretches DO combine warm up with stretches.
Stretching during your cool down helps your heart rate and breathing to return to your pre-workout resting levels gradually and helps avoid dizziness resulting from blood pooling in your legs when exercise is stopped suddenly.