Weekly fitTip: Never Stretch Before a Workout

Every once in a while we all get these mysterious sprains or injuries from our activities of daily life or our regular workouts.  These so-called injuries can last anywhere from overnight or go on for days or even weeks.  Very frustrating and senseless as it’s often hard to pinpoint the actual cause.  Most people simply resolve to the fact that they probably didn’t warm up enough.

Well, the truth is, warming up can be a double-edged sword, not only can it prevent injury, but it can also be the cause of injury.

First of all, injuries can be pretty complicated and your lack of warming up may not totally be to blame, but one thing is for sure:  Warming up WILL help you reduce your risk of injury.  You need to get yourself moving and get that blood flowing to your muscles to properly prepare your body before you get all crazy with the dumbbells.

Problem is, most people have been taught that stretching is part of warming-up.  After all, isn’t that what all the fitness magazines suggest.  Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth and it’s exactly the kind of advise that initiates those senseless injuries.

Here’s why you should NEVER stretch before your workout:

#1 Stretching before your workout can increase your risk of injury:

There’s a common misconception that stretching reduces your risk of injury by “loosening” up your muscles.  Well, it’s not all wrong…static stretching can help elongate and relax your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  But here’s the catch: static stretching reduces your muscles’ ability to contract.

And since your muscles need to be ready to contract (concentrically and eccentrically) at vigorous rates as soon as you start exercising, you want them to be ready for action — NOT in a long and relaxed state. You’re much more likely to pull a muscle when you suddenly try to exert force (like lifting weights) from a relaxed state.  This is why static stretching is not the activity of choice prior to working out.

#2 Stretching is NOT warming-up:

Your warm-up should be a lighter version of what your actual workout is going to be (I call it a “Dynamic Warm-Up”.  For example, if one of the exercises you plan on doing is lunges with dumbbells, then your warm up should be lunges without the weights.  You should do all the low-intensity versions of the exercises you’ll be doing in your workout to properly prepare your muscles, ligaments and joints.  This is why it makes all the difference to plan what you’re going to do before you go the gym.

The whole point of warming up is to get your heart rate up, get your blood flowing and pump more oxygen to your muscles so you can prepare to dive into your workout.  If you stretch during your warm-up, you’re going to let your heart rate back down and allow your muscles to relax…and “undo” what you were trying to accomplish in the first place!

When should you stretch?

Stretching is extremely important, but what’s more important is WHEN you stretch.  Never stretch before a workout, only AFTER your workout.  You want to have good flexibility because that helps reduce risk of injury, but it’s crucial that you don’t work on it until after your workout when you’re cooling down – that’s the right time to lengthen and relax your muscles.

Now, keep this in mind during your next workout and see if you experience the difference.  I can almost guarantee you won’t be getting anymore of those mysterious injuries.

Weight Training is a Must for Women

There are still so many misconceptions about women and weight training.  Many women are still weary of weight training in fear of bulking up like a man, but this cannot be further from the truth.  It is genetically impossible for women to build bulky muscle mass like that of men for the simple fact that we do not have the same hormonal composition.  Women do not possess enough natural testosterone to build big bulging muscles, this is only possible by supplementing with steroids (synthetic testosterone), and only then does it start to look unnatural.  Testosterone, however, is only one factor, genetics plays a larger role.  Our DNA predetermines what type of muscle fibers we have and where on the body they are distributed, how we respond to exercise, and our body type.

As women, weight training is one of the best things we can do for our bodies, especially as we age.  Here are some reasons why women must consider weight training:

  • Reverse the loss of muscle mass.  After the age of 35, we typically lose 5% of our muscle mass every 10 years if we do nothing.  With strength training, we can reverse the loss of muscle mass by building toned, lean muscles.
  •   Stimulate fat loss.  As we age we our metabolism starts to slow down causing an increase in body fat, this typically starts around the age of 30.  How much body fat we gain depends greatly on our level of activity and lifestyle.  Weight training will increase lean muscle mass.  Lean muscle mass burns ten times more calories than fat mass and it continues to torch calories all day long.
  •  Prevent osteoporosis.  Regular weight training can significantly decrease your risk of developing osteoporosis and osteopenia by increasing bone density.  In order for bone to continue to renew itself, it requires regular overloading, otherwise, bone starts to lose minerals and becomes brittle and fragile. This is one of the main reasons why older adults are so susceptible to bone fractures.  Weight training can provide the bones with necessary overload for the generation of new bone tissue.
  • Prevent many chronic diseases.  Regular weight training can decrease your chances of developing heart disease by lowering your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increasing your HDL (“good”) cholesterol.  Diabetes can be prevented or controlled with weight training by improving your body’s utilization of sugar.  The prevention and management of arthritis (osteoarthritis) is better possible by including weight training in your regular routine.  Weight training not only strengthens the muscles, but it also strengthens the connective tissues (tendons, ligaments) that surround and support the joints.  By increasing the integrity of your joints, you will also be preventing injury.
  • Become physically stronger.  Stronger muscles can greatly increase your quality of life and prevent injuries.  Even strength training 2-3 times a week can increase your overall strength by 30-50%This will make the activities of daily life requiring bending, lifting, climbing a lot easier and safer by reducing the risk of injury.
  • Stay positive and focused.  Exercise in general, has a mood altering effect.  The release of “feel good hormones” called endorphins, can help fight off depression and increase mental focus and clarity.
  • Look younger longer.  The anti-aging effects of weight training has been documented in numerous research studies.  The combination of all the other positive effects of weight training gives way to a more youthful body and mind.  People that are physically fit, healthy, happy, and active always seem younger.