Isn’t Warming-up Basically Just Stretching?

By: Kristie Delgado, MSGMC’s Fitness Specialist

With lower temperatures becoming the norm, it’s essential to make sure you take measures to prevent injury before a workout (cold weather can be tough on your body). Some experts say the best way to prevent injury is to warm-up, while others say stretching is the way to go. So which is it?

In a nutshell, you need to do both. Now I know what you’re thinking, aren’t they essentially the same thing? Not exactly. To help highlight the key differences and benefits, let’s take a closer look at each and most importantly, when it’s best to use each of them.

Warming-Up:

A good warm-up routine is designed to send a signal to the brain that the body is about to do some work, and to prepare for it. This preparation includes releasing hormones that tell your cells you need more fuel. At the same time, other hormones help to temporarily shut down expendable functions, like digestion to shunt oxygen-rich blood to the areas the body that will need it. Still, other hormones will work to inhibit your ability to feel pain, which dictates how well you tolerate exercise.

Another purpose of a gradual warm-up is to wake up the muscle cells you’re going to be using. This is important because if you start movement suddenly, not all of your muscles will have received the message to turn on, making it harder to exercise. It also adds stress to the muscle cells that are doing the work, increasing the risk of injury. Some muscle cells need a gradual prompting to get to work, while others can jump right to it instantly. You can think of your muscles as falling into one of two groups: either they’re night owls who need time (and coffee) to get moving in the morning versus the early birds, who wake up alert and ready to go.

Stretching:

Unlike warming-up, stretching can either increase or decrease the risk of injury; it can also either improve or worsen exercise performance. It all depends on the purpose of the stretching, the activity being performed and your needs.

For instance, if you have limited range of motion in a joint that is going to be used during your activity, then stretching the muscles around that joint may help reduce the risk of injury. On the other hand, if you have normal range of motion and stretch beyond that prior to a workout, you can increase the risk of injury. Furthermore, activities that require jumping, change of direction, or speed may benefit from more tension in muscles, so stretching could reduce performance in those activities.

So what’s the bottom line, should you warm-up, stretch, or both? It depends.

Warm-up:      Always, especially if you exercise first thing in the morning or after being inactive for any extended period of time.

Stretching:   Yes, when needed to improve limited joint range of motion, especially if there is an imbalance between different sides of the body.

No, if you are performing an activity that relies on muscle tension for performance. Instead focus on a dynamic range of motion warm-up.

When it comes to exercising, there’s a lot to remember—warming-up, stretching, working out, recovering and more. So where do you start? With a fitness assessment. Because when it comes to exercise, you don’t want to just go through the motions, you want to make the most of it. That’s why the fitness professionals at GMC’s Ellis Fitness & Performance Center are prepared to help you with all of your unique fitness needs and goals.

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