Thursday, February 18, 2016

Warming Up: Why You Might Be Doing It Wrong

image via rpphotos on flikr
There's no doubt warming up before exercise is important, but you might be doing it wrong if you're still defaulting to the static stretches you learned in grade school (e.g. butterfly stretch or v-sit), or other stretches that don't require your body to move. During static stretching, you stretch the muscle to the end of its range of motion and hold it there for a few seconds. While that's great for increasing flexibility, studies show static stretching can actually be counterproductive when performed before exercise because lengthening the muscle and then holding it there exhausts it, decreasing its ability to store energy and spring into action. So, what's the better choice?

The answer is dynamic stretching, or stretching that requires active movement. Unlike static stretches, dynamic stretches lengthen and contract the muscles in short spurts, so they give you the explosivity you need to power through your workout. In short, dynamic stretches are an effective way to warm up because they (1) activate the muscles you'll use during your workout, (2) improve range of motion, (3) prepare you for the intensity of your workout, and (4) they're fun to do! With that said, here are four of my favorite dynamic exercises I suggest you incorporate into your warm-up routine:

1. Frankenstein Walk

Also known as the "toy soldier," this exercise involves swinging one leg at a time forward, stretching the hip flexors in front of the joint. Start by walking forward with arms extended, parallel to the floor. Kick one leg straight out in front of you and try to touch your toes to your hands. As that leg comes down, kick the other one out. Keep alternating like this as you continue to walk forward.

2. Butt Kicks

This one stretches the hip flexors, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Standing with your knees close together, flex your left knee and left leg behind you so your heel touches the glute. Bring your left leg down and perform the same movement with the right leg. The faster you alternate, the better. You can do these while standing in place or while walking forward.

3. Lying Leg Crossovers

The lying leg crossover stretches the hip abductors and is a great exercise to improve hip mobility. Lying down flat on your back, raise your left leg above your waist. With your knee extended and leg straight, lower it over your right leg as far as possible, keeping your shoulder blades on the floor. Return to starting position and repeat. Perform the exercise with your right leg as well. 

4. Arm Circles

To warm up the upper body, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with arms extended straight out to the sides at shoulder height. Keeping your shoulders down, make 20 small backward circles with your hands. Then, switch directions (20 forward circles). Alternate between small and big circles to challenge your range of motion.

Do you have any favorite dynamic exercises of your own? If so, please share in the comments!

xo – Sc

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