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.