To Your Health
September, 2007 (Vol. 01, Issue 09)
Every workout should end with a brief cooldown and stretching routine. Research indicates that if you only have time to stretch once, you should make time after your workout, when your muscles are warm and responsive to stretching.
Why: If you've done your workout right, your heart rate will be at its peak and you'll feel warm and tired. The cooldown lets your heart transition to its normal rate and lets your muscles adjust out of their contracted state, which can help prevent strain and soreness.
How: As with the warm-up, the cooldown should be a low-intensity, five-minute version of the activity you just completed, followed by a series of stretching exercises.
Failing to stretch after physical activity can cause injuries, but stretching with bad form also is a leading cause of injuries. Be sure to do it right. If you have a muscle condition, prior injury, or particular area of sensitivity or soreness, you should consult with your doctor about creating a specialized stretching routine. If you are an athlete or an avid runner, your doctor can guide you through more vigorous types of stretching, including ballistic, dynamic, active and isometric stretching.
Now that you know the benefits of warming up, cooling down and regular stretching, never again underestimate the importance of the first and last few minutes of your workout. Rather than shocking your system with sudden changes and strains, take a few minutes to let your body adjust to the physical demands you're about to place on it.
BASIC STRETCHING EXERCISES
Chest and Shoulders
Stand with your hands clasped together behind your back and your arms straight. Raise your hands toward the ceiling as far as you can comfortably.
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
In a standing position, hold onto a chair or wall with one arm for balance. With your free hand, grab the top of your right foot and bend your knee, bringing the foot toward the buttocks, with your knee pointing straight at the floor. Switch sides and repeat.
Lie flat on the floor and cross your left foot over your right knee. Clasp your hands behind your right thigh and gently pull the leg in toward you, keeping your upper body relaxed. Switch legs and repeat.
Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and feet touching the floor. Raise one leg straight in the air and slowly pull it toward you, clasping the thigh, calf or ankle. Keep the knee slightly bent. Switch legs and repeat.
Sitting on the floor, place the soles of your feet together and bring them about two feet away from your body. Gently push your knees toward the floor and slowly bend forward.
Lie flat on the floor and place your right foot on your left knee. Using your left hand, gently pull your right knee toward the floor, twisting your spine and keeping your right arm straight out, with your hips and shoulders on the floor. Switch sides and repeat.