Dear Fun and Fit: I understand that stretching and warming up before any workout is highly recommended, but for how long? And what type of warm-ups are best?
Kymberly: Oooooh, I love this excellent question because it brings back memories of an article I wrote and another I edited back in the days when warm-ups were still tepid and not yet globally warming. The simplest way to get my point across is to put it right out in the warm-o-sphere: the objective of a warm-up is to prepare the body to move and to literally heat up. Movements best achieve this; NOT holding still in a static stretch. A static, or “held” stretch is preparing the body to … ta dum … hold still. The best kind of warm-up ensures you are:
» Raising the core temperature
» Heating the muscles
» Increasing blood flow to the muscles about to work
» Elevating the heart rate
» Dynamically stretching the muscles for the workload and range of motion ahead
Major muscles come in pairs, so when you walk or lightly jog before a jogging workout, you stretch the hamstring every time the quadricep contracts, for example. Or if you perform an upper-body rowing motion, your chest (pectorals) lengthen as your back (traps) shorten.
Alexandra: My brain is a major muscle and it doesn’t come in a pair. OK, maybe “flex your brain matter” is just slang.
K: Love you, Sis, but the brain is not a muscle. Anyway, the best warm-up is one that contains the moves you are about to perform in your workout. We (I mean fitness pros in general, not just Alexandra and I) call this the “rehearsal” effect. If you are about to jog, then a light jog with a gradual increase in intensity is best; if you are getting ready for a boot camp class, then a lighter version of the moves from the workout will be just right. Take about 5-8 minutes to increase intensity, range of motion, and perhaps the pace.
A: Hoisting your leg up on a ballet barre is not the ideal way to warm-up: running around a bar is a good way to warm-up (especially if you tend to jog with a beverage in one hand). I’m going to quote here from a wonderfully comprehensive review on stretching by Len Kravitz Ph.D. that I edited, “(Dr. Stephen) Thacker et al. (2004) concluded that pre-exercise stretching does not prevent injury among competitive or recreational athletes. They point out that studies incorporating a pre-exercise combination of resistance exercise, body conditioning and warm-up show promise for better injury prevention. (Drs. Robert) Herbert and (Marcos) de Noronha (2009) state that stretching before and after exercise has not been shown to impart any additional protection from muscle soreness.”
All the way from Australia, (as opposed to “All the way from Washington”) read this article for some succinct info on warm-ups, although you should keep in mind that it was written in 2003, so the bit about static stretching should be taken with a grain of Tiger Balm, as Kravitz’s advice is more current. Here’s my question to you, Noël, Why do you have an umlaut in your name? Wait, that’s not my question. It’s: What is your goal with the warm-up? If it’s to prevent injury or muscle soreness, do the movement types Kymberly recommends above. If you are stretching for other reasons (such as to show off your shapely legs to a bunch of soccer players), we can’t help you. But we’ll be right over!
K: Well, she might be right over. I’ll be here making moves to refer you all to our post from a bit back on the best time to stretch.
Readers: What type of warm-up do you do? Are you one of those people who comes to an exercise class a bit late and misses the warm-up?
— Identical twins and fitness pros Kymberly Williams-Evans and Alexandra Williams have been in the fitness industry since the first aerobics studio opened on the European continent. They teach, write, edit, emcee and present their programs worldwide on land, sea and airwaves. They co-write Fun and Fit: Q and A with K and A. You can currently find them in action leading classes in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Kymberly is the former faculty minor adviser at UCSB for its fitness instruction degree offered through the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies; Alexandra serves as an instructor and master teacher for the program. Fun and Fit answers real questions from real people, so please send your comments and questions to email@example.com.