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Workout Warm Up and Stretching Before Workouts

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Training Information : Warming Up & Stretching

We all know that we should thoroughly warm up and stretch before we workout but just how many of us actually give our warm ups enough attention and time?

I consider the warm up and the subsequent stretching to be THE most important part of ANY workout. Every workout I religously warm up and stretch for about 20 minutes. Does this sound excessive to you? From my experiences in the gym (12 years worth now - time flies when you are having fun!) the majority of bodybuilders don't do any warm up other than one or two warm up sets per exercise. Stretching consists of a few half-hearted pulls against the machine you will first use in your workout and the sweat top comes off at the first sign of perspiration. Come on, own up - are you in this crowd? If so please read the rest of this article and I will try and explain why I am such and advocate of the warm-up and stretching.

The main aim of the warm up and stretching is to build up your core body temperature and make your muscles as flexible and elastic as possible. In other words fully prepare yourself so that you can lift heavy weights with minimal risk of injury. A great example of how heat affects elasticity is to get an elastic band and put it in the freezer for a few hours before taking it out and trying to stretch it. It will snap much sooner than if it were at normal room temperature.

Failure to adequately warm up and stretch really does dramatically increase your chances of injury. Sadly, I have experienced this first hand. In my youth I used to train with almost psychotic agression and subsequently injured myself left right and centre. Both of my pecs were pulled several times and I have had to live with these injuries on a long term (chronic) basis. Even though I did the typical five minutes warm up on the bike / treadmill followed by a few general warm up sets this wasn't even for the intensity in which I was training. Over the years I have learnt though!

Or so I thought. In October 2001 I tore my left pec whilst incline bench pressing 140kg (308 pounds). I was on my fifth ultra strict rep having already peformed five previous sets, pyramiding up with the weight each set. I had spent 10 minutes on the treadmill and had done lots of warming up sets (all over body warming up, not just pec exercises). I had felt good. Within days of tearing my pec (a 90% tear in the muscle belly itself) I realised my mistake and learnt a tremendous lesson.

Even though I had without failure spent a great deal of time each workout warming up I had failed to do enough stretching of my pecs. Stretching them caused minor discomft due to the prior long term muscle pulls I had had and so over time I had performed less and less stretching, mistakenly thinking that I was protecting them from any injury I might cause during stretching.

Boy, how stupid did I feel?! Keeping flexibility in your muscles is imperative to minimising muscle injury. I cannot emphasise this enough. Warming up is not enough - it doesn't matter how warm your muscles are if they are too inelastic to cope with the poundage you apply to them. Consistent stretching over a period of time will greatly improve your flexibility and not only minimise injury risk but also help you to correctly perform exercises that need a certain amount of flexibility such as squats and deadlifts. Of course, I do not know everything but since my major injury I have not had another injury caused through weight training since. Please see the image at the bottom of this article to see how I looked a couple of days after the injury (I actually passed out and had a fit two hours after the tear, and I was admitted to hospital twice on the day).

I know the saying goes that you only learn from your own mistakes but please please consider my words. Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes on an aerobic machine and then do another 5 or 10 minutes of light exercises that cover the whole body (such as pulldowns, bent over rows, stiff leg deadlifts, barbell press etc.). Once thoroughly warmed-up spend another 5 minutes stretching your target and ancillary muscles that you will be training. This will thoroughly prepare you for your workout and even though you might think all this work will mean you are tired for your workout it just isn't so - you can lift better because you are so prepared for it.

With regards to the actual stretching there is a tendency for many people to bounce as they stretch. This is wrong - you should hold a mild stretch (it shouldn't hurt!) for 20 to 30 seconds before resting and repeating. This may seem like a long time but this period of time is required for the muscle to send signals that it is okay for it to relax and stretch a little further than normal. Over time this causes the improved flexibility of the muscle in question.

In summary: 1. Warm up on an aerobic machine for 5 - 10 minutes first 2. Then spend another 5 - 10 minutes doing all over light resistance work 3. Finish with mild, 20 - 30 second stretches for all the muscles that will be worked today. Spend between 3 and 5 minutes stretching (longer if you have time)

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