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WORKOUTS

What's The Difference between Stretching and Warming Up?

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Do you warm up before exercise? Are you stretching your muscles to get the blood flowing? Big mistake! Stretching before a workout can actually hurt your performance. Contrary to popular belief, stretching and warming up are not the same. While it's important to warm up before exercise, you should only stretch after finishing your workout. Feel confused? Here are some things you should know:

What Does Warming Up Involve?
Warm-ups play a key role in overall performance and injury prevention. This practice involves doing a series of exercises to prepare your body for vigorous training. Its role is to warm your muscles and increase heart rate. When done properly, it improves joint flexibility, boosts force and speed of contraction, and raises temperature in the working muscles. Other benefits of warm-ups include:

  • Elevated heart rate 
  • Increased elasticity of muscle fibers
  • Release of adrenaline
  • Improved oxygen flow 
  • Improved muscle metabolism
  • Reduced blood viscosity
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Dilation of capillaries
  • Removal of lactic acid
  • Stronger bones and joints
  • Increased mental focus
  • Improved athletic performance 

 A good warm-up prepares you mentally and physically for exercise. It also increases overall strength, improves the range of motion around your joints, and supplies your muscles with the blood, oxygen, and nutrients needed to function at their peak. You can warm up your whole body, or focus on certain muscle groups.
Popular exercises include side arm raises, neck rotations, hip rotations, hops on the spot, kicks and punches, light jogs, foam rolling, high knees, toe touches, or cycling. Basic body rotations work best before strength training. If you’re an MMA fighter, a few light kicks should do the trick. Walking lunges and jumping rope are a good warm-up for runners. If you're preparing for a strength training session, you can do a light set to warm your muscles.

How Does Stretching Work?
Some athletes stretch their muscles as part of a warm-up. According to health experts, this habit can be counterproductive. Studies indicate that stretching before lifting weights can drain your energy and increase injury risk. It may also negatively impact performance, reaction time, balance, power, and muscle strength.

Static stretching appears to cause the most harm when done before exercise. Some stretches can affect shoulder stability, trigger back pain, and affect your mobility. Research shows that static stretching reduces muscle strength by as much as 5.5 percent. In a recent study, athletes who stretched before exercise lifted 8.3 percent less weight than their peers. The best time to stretch is after training when your muscles are already warmed up.
This practice has its benefits. It all comes down to when and how you do it. Studies have found that stretching each muscle group for 15 to 30 seconds per day can increase range of motion. The type of stretching matters too. This activity can be classified into three categories: dynamic, static, and ballistic stretching.

Static stretching involves exercises that slowly lengthen the muscles to an elongated position. This helps relieve muscle tension and improves valance. Ideally, you should do static stretches after working out to reduce soreness and relax your body.

Dynamic stretching can be used as part of a warm-up routine. Its role is to activate the muscles that you're planning to train. It involves explosive movements, such as jumping, running, and kicking. When done right, it lowers your risk of injury and increases range of motion. Depending on the muscles worked, you can do lunges with a twist, high kicks, knees to chest, jump lunges, jump squats, walking lunges, butt kicks, and basket ball slides.

Ballistic stretching is considered unsafe for the average person. This training method uses the momentum of a muscle or body part to force it beyond its normal range of motion. It is typically used by basketball players, football players, dancers, and MMA fighters. This practice has been replaced with static stretching in most sports.

It's no doubt that stretching has its benefits. The key is to do it the right way, at the right time. Combining stretching with warming up can do more harm than good. Also, it's not recommended to stretch recently injured muscles. If you're unsure when to stretch, do it on your off training days. This will keep you fit and help maintain joint flexibility.

Summary

  • For optimum results, focus on warm-up exercises that mimic the movements of the activity that you're about to do. 
  • Static stretching works best after exercise, while dynamic stretching should be done after a workout.
  • Ballistic stretching can be dangerous and should only be done under the supervision of a coach or trainer. 
  • Do not stretch before jogging, strength training, and other activities that require explosive muscle power.
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