Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exercise, Part IV: Injury Prevention, Stretching, Warm Up and Cool Down

Preventing injury is an often-neglected component of an exercise program but, when the basics are incorporated into your daily routine, you will be much less likely to spend time on the sidelines because of pulled muscles and other overuse injuries.

Warming up can be confusing to many who are starting out with an exercise program. But, there is nothing complicated about it. The basic tenets are simply to start slow and stay slow until your body is ready for the stress of the workout. This will allow your cardiovascular system to infuse all of your key muscles, and will get your heart and lungs functioning on "high alert" to endure the stress of the workout. For most people, this process involves exercising at appoximately half speed for about the first five minutes; then, if all seems well, you can move to full speed and complete your exercise session. Failure to properly warm up may result in a high degree of muscular stress on muscles and tendons that are still tight and not adequately vascularized, and render them much more susceptible to injury.

Cooling down is a good idea and is almost as important as warming up. What cool down accomplishes is allowing the body to reduce the heart rate and blood flow while, at the same time, reducing the amount of stress and work that the muscles are doing. During this time, the blood courses through the muscles and begins the work of cleansing toxic breakdown products such as lactic acid that can cause soreness and stiffness. It also provides a few relatively stress free minutes to concentrate on form and technique, which are also important, over the long haul, to staying in balance and avoiding injury.

What about stretching? How often should you do it? How should you do it? And, should you stretch before or after a workout? Stretching is important in maintaining optimum flexibility and preventing injury. Failure to stretch results in progressive shortening of the muscles and tendons to the point that, after years of exercising and not stretching, some people literally cannot completely straighten their legs. For walking, running and biking, the most important stretches are the legs. For tennis, weight lifting, handball and other upper body skills, arms and shoulders are most important. It's not that you shouldn't stretch all of these areas regardless, it's just that, if push comes to shove, it is much more critical for a biker to stretch his hamstrings and quads that it is for him to stretch his shoulders and arms.

Stretching should be done a minimum of 5 or 10 minutes three to four times a week. The preferred technique is "proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation", which involves alternating contraction and stretching of the muscle in question. I prefer to stretch hamstrings for 30 seconds, then the other side, returning the first one for a total of two stretches on each side. I do this by placing my heel about waist high and leaning over til I feel the stretch, alternating contraction and stretching to increase the amount of muscle lenthening that can be accomplished. I stretch the quads by holding on to my foot behind me, same way, 30 seconds on each side, repeat times one. Most people tend not to like to stretch and, so, they often avoid doing it, resulting in a very tight body that cannot perform optimally and is more prone to injury.

Next time, we'll talk about exercise and weight loss...

Your comments are always welcome.

No comments: