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Warm-up worries

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

You’ve been told that stretch before a workout helps reduce the chances or injury. But that is not quite true of all stretches. Sunny Rodricks tells you which stretches to avoid the next time you hit the gym

It’s the norm in the fitness world to stretch your muscles and ready your limbs for a workout. This may consist of static stretches, where muscles are warmed up by holding them in fixed positions, and/or dynamic stretches, where movement serves to warm them up. But, many people involve only static stretches in their warm-up routine and scientists have discovered that this may actually be counterproductive. Stretching cold muscles leads to injuries. So, we’re telling you which stretches to cut out of your pre-workout routine.

Sit-and-reach stretches
Remember all the toe-grabbing stretches you were taught as a youngster? Sit-and-reach stretches are of the static type and may be hurting your performance. They can leave you feeling tired sooner. Instead, opt for walking or spot jogging.

Elevated hamstring stretch for the legs
This type involves placing one foot on a surface slightly lower than your hips, such as a bench, and hinging at the hips to stretch your hamstring. This can lead to a deep burn in the back of the knee, which you may translate as a good stretch. However, this applies pressure and tension to the sciatic nerve. Instead, try the lunge and twist to make sure your hamstrings have loosened up.

Pigeon pose for the hips
The goal of the pigeon pose is to stretch the piriformis muscle and the hip rotators. It involves bending one knee and extending the other leg behind you while sitting on a yoga mat. This pose is a threat to your knee and can cause sacroiliac (pelvic) issues. Getting into the pigeon pose also involves other muscles such as the pelvis, hip and knee. If these muscles are tight, the stretch is often uncomfortable and not at all helpful. Walking lunges or biking at a fast pace are much better at warming up the hip muscles than the pigeon pose.

Stretching to lift weights
If you stretch before you lift weights, there is a possibility that this may affect the stability of your joints. This can leave you prone to injuries. So, it’s best to opt for a cardio exercise as a warm-up. A moderate-intensity exercise that uses major muscle groups will help.

Ballistic stretching
Also called bouncing, in this type of stretching you bend forward and reach for your toes to stretch your lower back. But you don’t hold this position; you “bounce” up and down a bit. According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, ballistic stretching may increase your risk of injury. Which is why, the American College of Sports Medicine does not recommend it. Instead, warm up with jogging or running, and try side-to-side leg swings to increase your flexibility.

Bend this way
Dynamic stretching is a more active form of stretching and it improves your range of motion in addition to stretching your muscles. Try these dynamic stretches before your workout.

  • Front-to-back leg swings: Stand up straight and hold on to something (like a wall or pole) for balance. Lift one leg off the floor and then kick it forward and backwards until you feel a good stretch, slowly increasing your range of motion.
  • Side-to-side leg swings: Stand up straight and hold on to something. Lift one leg off the floor and kick it to the side, away from your standing leg. Swing back towards your standing leg, then to the side again. Slowly increase your range of motion.
  • Arm circles: Stand up straight and spread your arms out to your sides. Keeping your arms straight, slowly move them to trace circles in the air, both clockwise and anticlockwise.
  • Lunge with a twist: Step forward into a lunge. Slowly and steadily twist to one side for a more intense hip flexor stretch. This works the entire body and ensures that your abs get a little bit of attention too.
  • Hip stretch with a twist: Start in a push-up position and bring your right foot up to your right hand, keeping your lower back flat. Twist towards your left while you extend your left arm and reach towards the sky. This works on your hamstrings muscles too.
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