Warm-Up, Foam Rolling and Stretching
Help Your Body Before and After a Workout
Workouts start before you lift your first weight, take your first step or swim your first lap. To get the most from your exercise, you need to prepare your body for what's about to happen. There are three things to consider. The first is, you have to start with a proper warm-up.
I generally warm-up with some form of cardio exercise. The goal is to make the heart pump faster and get more blood moving through your muscles. You're also trying to raise your temperature and prepare your body for strenuous exercise.
Ignoring or avoiding a warm-up means a less effective exercise session. Cold muscles are more prone to injury. If you workout with someone, not warming up before means you'll waste part of that session getting your body ready instead of working toward muscle gains. That can be annoying to a workout buddy and expensive if you're using a trainer.
(Before Exercise or Before Stretching)
The second thing to consider is called foam rolling. Think of your muscles as taffy. When taffy is cold and hard, it's inflexible and easy to break. When taffy is warm, it's pliable. Knots in our muscles are like hard taffy. Once you've finished warming up, using a foam roller can help relax those knots where muscles are especially tight.
Foam rolling works by stretching the fascia. In medical studies, it reduced pain in 94% of patients who suffered from chronic plantar fasciitis and it helps people who have Iliotibial band syndrome. Fascia stretching has also been shown to help alleviate pain in connecting muscles and joints. When pain is decreased, workouts tend to be more effective.
Foam rolling is best done at two different times. The first is before a weight training or cardio workout. The second is when you finish exercising, but before you start stretching.
For those of you who want to use foam rolling as a way to increase muscle mass, don't bother. One of the theoretical benefits of foam rolling is that it can help relieve or loosen "knots" in the muscle. Then during strength training exercises, the entire length of the muscle is worked. (This is loosely based on the Huxley Sliding Filament Theory.)
Please note: This has NOT been documented in a research setting, despite numerous books and articles singing its praises. Until it's been proven in clinical research, don't waste your time using this to increase muscle mass. Use it to reduce pain in connecting muscles and joints.
(After Exercise or After Foam Rolling - Not Before Exercise)
Stretching is the third consideration. Poor flexibility inhibits proper movement and over time that can lead to pain and injury. For example, a lack of mobility in the hamstring can lead to low back pain. Reduced shoulder mobility is a factor in rotator cuff injuries. By stretching after a session you can relieve workout pain and increase your flexibility.
Stretching after a workout provides another benefit. It improves the flow of blood to muscles so they recover faster. Just don't make the mistake of stretching before you exercise without a doctor's recommendation. In study after study, people who stretch before a workout reduced their strength and it didn't help prevent injury.
Since there are several different types, we recommend the following based on your circumstances. When you have sports-specific things you're training for, consider ballistic stretching. If you have a partner that can guide and motivate you, PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching works well. To conclude a workout, static and slow movement stretches are appropriate.
For almost every rule, there is an exception. If you're doing dynamic stretches (also known as mobility exercises) it's acceptable to do them before you exercise. Dynamic stretches work like a warm-up and increase blood flow to the muscles.
Now that you know what's appropriate before and after your next workout, it's time to put that knowledge into practice. Schedule 10-15 minutes before your workout to get ready and another 5-10 minutes to finish up.
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