The Importance of Warming up.
Why do Gym teachers at school or college, personal trainers or sports coaches, have you warm up your body and do stretching techniques before exercising? It is for exactly the same reason that career athletes and sports professionals take their time to stretch and warm up before a practice or a match. The stretching will help greatly to prepare your body for the exercise that it is about to experience.
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However, before one stretches, it is usually vital, or at the least preferable, that you warm up first. Warming up does imply that you are preparing to exercise, just like getting ready. For example, in cold weather a car needs to be started and warmed up, before you move off in the car down the road. Manufacturers advise us to do this because starting up and immediately driving off is potentially damaging to the engine – the same logic applies to your body. Warming up will help to increase the temperature of your body to an optimum state while also preparing your muscles to be ready for exercise. Thus, warming up will actively help to prevent injuries to muscles, which may otherwise occur if you just start from cold and exercise.
Warming up properly will also increase your heart rate, this will deliver more blood and therefore oxygen to your muscles while readying the body to burn more energy. Ideally five to ten minutes of warming up should be sufficient. You can warm up while doing the same movements that you will be doing for exercise, but just at a slower pace, like slow-motion. If you are going to run, then simply jog for those minutes to warm up, before building to your maximum and sustained effort.
Preferably for all sports activities, after your body has warmed up, it is time to stretch. It is important to get into this habit because if you stretch cold muscles it will lead to injury, even a debilitating injury. But if you have prepared your muscles and they are warm, stretching correctly will reduce injuries and long term stress while also delivering to you improved flexibility, a greater range of motion, of posture and of coordination. The benefits are important and long term for you overall musculature.
What is happening when you stretch the muscles?
What does stretching actually do, and why can it sometimes hurt? What should stretching actually be making you feel?
You do know that it is important to stretch, and that you feel the benefit after having stretched, but why is this, what happens to your muscles (and overall to your body) after a stretch session?
It is all to do with flexibility. Your inherent ability to flex will come from many factors, i.e. the joints, the ligaments, your tendons and the muscles of your body. Some people, are simply born with loose ligaments and with more mobile bone joints. This is not something which you need to work on altering, for the ligaments connect the bones and are vital for the overall stability of the body. If you try to lengthen the ligaments, you will certainly face problems.
Your attention in stretching is actually on the muscles, and equally on where the tendons and the muscles meet (the tendons connect the muscle to your bones). The tendons and the muscles are the important main physical structures for your flexibility efforts. It is that interface which you are concentrating upon.
As well as the bone joints and the ligament structures, the muscle mass (i.e., what strength you have) will affect how supple you are and how far you can stretch. Training and conditioning affects greatly your flexibility.
Focus on your muscles. How do they Work?
Muscles vary greatly in their shape and their size, and they serve many different functions. Most of the larger muscles, such as the hamstrings and the quadriceps, control your motion. The other muscles, such as the heart, and muscles of your inner ear, perform different functions. However, at the microscopic level, all of the muscles of the body do share an intrinsic basic structure.
- At their highest level, the (whole) muscle is made up of so many strands of tissue known as fascicles. You see these strands of muscle when red meat or poultry is cut.
- Each fascicle is made up of fasciculi, these are bundles of muscle fibres.
- These muscle fibres are in turn made of several tens of thousand of thread like myofybrils, these contract, relax, or elongate.
- The myofybrils are also made up of several millions of bands laid end to end and known as sarcomeres.
- Each individual sarcomere is composed of overlapping thin and thick filaments known as myofilaments.
- The thin and thick myofilaments are in turn composed of contractile proteins, which are primarily actin and myosin.
Your nerves connect your spinal column to the muscle.
The point where the nerve and muscle connect is known as the neuromuscular junction.
When electrical signals cross the neuromuscular junction, this is then transmitted deep inside your muscle fibres. Subsequently and inside your muscle fibres, the electrical signal stimulates a flow of calcium which then causes the thin and thick myofilaments to slide across each other. When this happens, it signals the sarcomere to shorten, and this generates force. Therefore when the billions of sarcomeres of the muscle shorten simultaneously, then it results in a contraction of the whole muscle fibre.
If a muscle fibre contracts, it completely contracts. There is no event known as a partially contracted muscle fibre. The muscle fibres are not capable of varying in intensity during their contraction, relative to the load against which you are imposing.
How then does the force of a muscle contraction result in a variance of strength from weak to strong?
What occurs is that the more of the muscle fibres that are recruited, as and when required to perform the work requested of them, then the more those muscle fibres that are recruited by your central nervous system, the stronger is the force being generated by the muscular contraction.
This may be a little technical and term heavy, but it will give you a better idea as to the complexity of what is actually happening in your body when movement of the body is under way. Fixators, are the muscles that provide you the necessary support that assist in holding the rest of your body in place, while movement happens. Fixators are sometimes also called stabilizer muscles.
- When you flex a knee, your hamstring will contract, and also, to some extent, your calf (gastrocnemius) and your lower buttocks.
- Meanwhile, your quadriceps are being inhibited (somewhat lengthened and relaxed) in order not to retard the flexion. In this example, the hamstring serves you as the agonist, or the prime mover and the quadricep serves you as the antagonist.
- The calf and lower buttocks serve you as the synergists.
- The agonists and the antagonists are generally found on opposite sides of the affected joint (such as your hamstrings and your quadriceps, or your triceps and your biceps),
- The synergists are generally located at the same side on the joint and near the agonists.
- Larger muscles will regularly call upon their smaller neighbours to function as synergists.
The muscles are by nature extremely pliant, and they can stretch up to one and a half times their own length, whereas your tendons may be damaged permanently if they are stretched by just four percent beyond their natural length. When you are stretching a muscle, this means that it stretches out from the centre of the muscle belly, out to the point where the muscle and tendon meet.
Overstretching means tissue damage.
A gentle stretch will relax your muscles, allowing them to release and grow longer, yet too intensive a stretch can actually produce an inflammatory response. This means that your body is trying to repair some damage. Any time you cause yourself pain, then you are actually causing tissue damage. You do not want to create any form of pain or discomfort when you are trying to become increase your mobility while also enhancing your flexibility.
Let your mind and body relax.
In order for a stretch to reach the complete length of a muscle and reach deep into the muscle-tendon connections, then it is preferred that you hold each stretch for about one minute.. but don’t push it, work up to this optimum.
- Your stretches should be gentle.
- Try not to bounce when stretching, as this can damage your muscles.
- Stretching must never hurt you, so be sure to stop if you start to feel pain.
- Holding a stretch for 10-30 seconds will help your muscles lengthen.
Your flexibility work, if done correctly, will produce a calming effect and even stretching before bed will help your mind and body relax, and produce a better sleep too – equally your gentle stretching, will aid the body to recover and regenerate.
- Do not stretch if you have any injuries.
- Keep breathing during your stretches.
- Correct breathing ensures that your muscles get the oxygen required during stretching.
- Ensure that both sides of your body are equally stretched.
- It might feel natural to you to focus on a dominant side, yet one’s focus should be to stretch all muscles equally.
Some propose that water is important to drink regarding your flexibility as an increased water intake is thought to contribute to better mobility, as well as enhanced total body relaxation.
Stretching your neck.
- Tilt your head forward, but don’t rock it from side to side as this may be dangerous. Alternatively, stretch your neck to the left, then the right, go forward and backward, and return to centre.
- Angle your head with the ear towards a shoulder, then tilt your head backwards and roll it from left to right, then the right to the left in a 30 degree motion.
- Ensure that when the head is tilted backwards, you keep the jaw relaxed and even let your mouth fall open a little.
Stretch the shoulder.
- Put an arm on the chest.
- Grasp your forearm with the other arm.
- Pull the arm until you feel your shoulder is stretching.
- Push the arm that you are stretching the opposite way so to contract the muscle if you notice that the chest is stretching instead of the shoulder.
Static stretching is a traditional type of stretching that most people are more familiar with. For example, bending over and touching your toes is a great static stretch for your hamstrings and your lower back. With static stretching you will want to go to just at the point of discomfort and then hold this stretch if possible for 30-60 seconds.
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Go slowly at first, do not push yourself to the point of excruciating pain and so risk pulling or tearing any muscles. As you become more habituated to stretching, your pain threshold will increase and you will be able to maintain any stretches for longer and then to stretch deeper.
Here are some static stretches that you can do easily.
Chest. Shoulders and Biceps.
Extend an arm and grasp a pole or other sturdy stationary object with one hand. Then slowly rotate the body away while keeping your posture upright. Keep going until you feel a good stretch in the chest, shoulders, and biceps. Hold this and then repeat it with the other arm. Try to do this stretch at least twice for each side.
UPPER BODY STRETCH
This stretch is quite easy, grasp a chin up bar and hang from it for as long as your strength will hold. You will probably feel the stretch throughout your entire upper torso. This can be repeated several times with different grips (e.g. wide, underhand, narrow, overhand).
Grab a bar or machine handle that is about waist high. Simply extend back as shown in the picture until you feel a good stretch in the lats and chest. Hold this for 30-60 seconds, take a quick rest and then repeat again.
Using a leg extension or seated leg curl machine, set the foot roller pad so that it is just lower then the height of your butt. Put the pin in the full weight stack so that the pad doesn’t move. Then hook your foot over the pad as shown in the picture. And lean back and down until you feel the stretch throughout the quads. Hold this for 30-60 seconds and then repeat with the other leg. Do this stretch at least twice for each side.
Extend your leg on a weight machine, rack, or some other object that is a bit higher then waist height. Straighten your leg and lean forward until you feel the stretch in the hamstrings. Try to grab your toes if you flexible enough, if not then just reach out as far as you can. Hold this for 30-60 seconds and then repeat with the other leg. Do this stretch at least twice for each side.
LOWER BACK/HAMSTRINGS STRETCH
This is pretty straight forward, just bend over with your legs straight and touch your toes. Hold this for 30-60 seconds, take a quick rest and then repeat again.
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