The need to warm up and stretch before exercising is common knowledge, regardless of whether you are a professional athlete or someone who works out for fun you need to be taking the time to warm up and stretch before your workout or game. However not everyone does this and fewer still warm up properly, so why is it so important?
Stretching and warming up helps prepare your body for the exercise it's about to get but it's important to note that you must warm up first and then stretch your muscles. Warming up helps raise the temperature of your body and your muscles so they'll be ready for exercise and less likely to suffer injuries.
Warming up also increases your heart rate, gets more blood and oxygen flowing to your muscles, and prepares your body to burn more energy. Usually five to ten minutes of warming up is sufficient. You can warm up doing the same thing you'll be doing for exercise, just at a slower pace. So if you're getting ready to run, walk for 5-10 minutes first to warm up.
After your body is warmed up, it's time to lightly stretch. As previously mentioned It's important to remember to warm up first, because stretching "cold" muscles can cause injuries. If your muscles are warm, though, stretching properly can reduce injuries and give you better flexibility, range of motion, posture, and coordination.
To get the benefit of stretching though you must make sure you're doing it properly. Stretching should never hurt, so always stop if you start to feel pain as a result of stretching. Holding your stretches for 10-30 seconds helps your muscles lengthen. Try not to bounce when you stretch, as this can damage your muscles.
Always breathe in and out deeply during your stretches. Proper breathing will make sure that your muscles get the oxygen they need during stretching. And also make sure you stretch both sides of your body equally, it may be natural to focus on your dominant side, but you should focus on stretching all your muscles equally so as to avoid injuries from over or underuse.
If you play sports, ask your coaches to recommend specific stretches that target muscle groups that you'll use often in the sport you play. They’ll also be able to advise you on stretches that target specific muscle functions for your sport like flexibility. In this way, you can better prepare your body for the specific type of exercise it's about to get.
When you're done exercising, it's important to cool down. Stretching is an important part of the cooling down process. Stretching after a workout helps to avoid tired, stiff, and sore muscles as you relax them before returning to a normal pace. Post exercise you can start working on deeper stretches as your muscles will be at their warmest and most malleable. Utilising deeper stretches will result in you experiencing even less stiffness, soreness the day after and a reduced chance of experiencing sudden cramps later on. When stretching deeply remember to always stop if it hurts and to breathe properly so the oxygen reaches your muscles as you go deeper into the stretch!