Exercise has become something of an art form blended with science over the years! Good form, posture, breathing techniques – it’s all very precise but done well flows naturally. However, to keep fit, healthy and to protect your body from injury, you are going to need to make sure you follow safety guidelines to ensure you’re future-proofing your fitness. For example, did you know how easy it is to suffer a pulled muscle, joint pain or neck pain just from failing to warm up properly?
For some people, stretching and warming up can seem like a little bit of a waste of time. However, any sporty person will tell you that this really isn’t the case and in fact, as we get older it becomes even more essential to good outcomes and enjoyment. I believe Ryan Giggs puts his long career down to taking up Ballet as he got older to keep him mobile and well-tuned... Let’s take a look at why warming up before exercise is so important, and why it’s necessary to do it right.
Flexibility or Mobility?
Flexibility is good but only if it is controlled. Think of mobility like a combination of flexibility and control - without the control the joint becomes unstable. Stretching lots before exercise can actually reduce muscle control and has been shown to increase the rate of injury! Warming up should be thought of more like preparing your neuromuscular system (nerves and muscles) for activity - the muscles loosen up and glide better with increased blood flow and the nerve control and specificity of movement starts to increase. Stretching is good, but leave the heavy stretching for the warm down or on a separate day (you still need to warm up before stretching though).
If you are about to play football, your brain wants to do football-based warm-ups, it wants to prime the body for the task ahead! Jogging, hip mobility like lunges and squats jumps/skips, light ball work etc - warm up the muscles but switch the football bit of the brain on too. Stretching the hamstring for 30 seconds teaches your brain you want to make the hamstrings longer so they are downregulated by the central nervous system which leads to lower control. Mobility drills on the other hand get the hamstrings tuned up, warm and therefore more mobile with higher control. Similarly, if you are about to do a 200kg back squat - warm up with some mobility, some light body weight squats, some light loaded squats etc and prime the neuromuscular system before going for the heavy stuff.
Our joints and muscles don’t just leap into action and start working for us right away, Kelly Starrett (author of Becoming a Supple Leopard), likes to note that we should strive to maintain mobility and conditioning of the whole body so that when we are required to leap into action we are ready at a moments notice - just like a leopard stalking prey. We are not Leopards though as he points out, and as supple as we can be it’s always better to warm up. As anyone with any kind of sports injury will confirm, if your muscles aren’t warm when you start pushing them to their limits, you are going to be facing a world of pain and discomfort – not good!
By warming up properly we help the muscles and tendons glide past each other instead of behaving more like Velcro! A supple warmed up body can help us avoid awful problems like back pain and major injuries. The creators of Functional Movement Systems advice is to move well and move often, otherwise, we inevitably lose mobility over time.
Stretching - It’s Great For Stress
By ‘great for stress’, we obviously mean that it’s great for combating it! When our various muscles are tight and our joints aren't limber, we can feel even tenser and stressed psychologically, too. There is a good link between stress, anxiety, depression and muscle tension. Take a second whilst reading this - are you tensing your jaw, your shoulders, are you slouching? Stretching and breathing sessions can be fantastic for unwinding this tension and putting you in positions your job and home life may neglect.
Therefore, to avoid any of the mental struggles that come with combatting physical tension, a great thing to try is to start stretching more. Stretching rids your body of all of that annoying tension and strain. It helps to prepare your body – and mind – for intensive exercise. Check out some online yoga classes (or if Lockdown ever ends find a good local class), get a session in every week so that you can tick the box next to taking care of your body.
It Opens Up The Potential
You never really know your full potential until you try. In fact, you’ll never know your limits until you hit them face-on. To really increase your limitations, you are going to need to maintain mobility.
Mobility not only lowers your risk of a nasty sports injury, but it also allows your body to move more freely during intense exercise, as well as take up a posture that is more appropriate to the exercise you wish to undertake. Instead of stiffly going into a run or picking up a few weights, you can hit the ground running – literally – with limber joints and muscles. You never know what you might achieve.
Beyond this, always remember that if you are struggling with neck pain, back pain or stiff joints or are going to undertake the intense exercise for the first time, it is always a good idea to consult the support and guidance of a chiropractor.
Whether before or after playing a sport, or undertaking a new challenge, a registered chiropractor will help you to understand how you can look after your body better. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, get in touch today on 01604 754456 or head over to our contact page for more details.
Nick has been treating patients for over 11 years. He currently works Duston Chiropractic Clinic