How you begin and end your exercise routine is just as important as the exercises themselves. Warming up and stretching will help you prevent injuries while cooling down, stretching, and massage will keep your muscles limber.
START WITH A WARM–UP
- You’ll find it’s easier to stretch “warm” muscles than “cool” ones. If possible, run a few easy laps around a track, or jog in place, to warm yourself up.
- A few minutes of jogging will increase blood flow to the muscles, making them easier to stretch and less likely to be injured.
A GOOD STRETCH
- Stretching is convenient: you can do it at home or as a break from work or while waiting for the bus-anytime at all.
- Stretch the muscles that you use in exercise or that you regularly use on the job.
- Neck and shoulder stretches are especially good stress relievers. You may want to use this type of stretch while at work to relieve the tensions of a busy office day (for more stretches to do in the office, see “Workouts at Work,” ).
- When you begin a stretch, you should feel a slight tension in your muscles, but the stretch shouldn’t hurt.
- Stretch slowly, holding the position for 10 to 30 seconds. The tension will slowly diminish. If the tension intensifies or the stretch becomes painful, you’re overstretching and should ease off.
- After this slow stretch, increase the tension by moving a fraction of an inch farther. ‘Hold this position for about 10 to 30 seconds. The tension will stay the same or gradually lessen. Perform each stretch three to five times.
- Stay relaxed when you stretch; breathe deeply and be sure you’re not clenching your teeth or holding your breath. Don’t carry anxiety into your workouts.
- Try to perform some mild stretching every day, or at least every other day. If you don’t, muscle fibers will creep back to their original state.
- Slow and steady stretching is easier on your body-never arch your back or bounce during a stretch.
STRETCHING BEFORE OR AFTER A WORKOUT?
- As long as you start out slowly, you may not need to stretch before exercising. When done at a moderate pace, bicycling, jogging, swimming, and walking put few demands on your muscles and joints.
- On the other hand, such sports as baseball, basketball. golf, tennis, downhill skiing, and racquetball require quick movements, putting more immediate demands on your muscles. If you haven’t stretched beforehand, you will be vulnerable to muscle tears or more serious injuries.
The best way to build long-term flexibility is by stretching after a workout. Post-exercise stretching can also reduce the muscle aches you might feel the next day.
- Make sure that all the equipment you use is in good condition. Shoes should fit snugly and have sufficient cushioning
- Get advice from a trainer or physical therapist if injuries recur. Improperly hitting a backhand is a common cause of “tennis elbow,” and poor running form can cause knee or back injuries.
- Don’t overdo stretching; take it easy on the days you don’t feel your best- And keep in mind that injuries can be caused by overstretching as well as under stretching.
- Notice the warning signs that precede an overuse injury. Excessive fatigue, a tingling sensation, or a localized, light throbbing may signal an injury in the making.
- Recurring injuries are often caused by too little recovery time. If you do sustain an injury, give it plenty of time to heal (see “Exercise Injuries,” )
Consider cross-training to prevent injuries. Doing the same exercise too often could put you at risk for repetitive strain or overuse injuries (see “Cross Training,” ).
RELAX WITH A MASSAGE
Massage not only feels great but can enhance your exercise program. You can use massage
(or self-massage) before exercise to warm up and loosen your muscles or after exercise to help prevent stiff muscles and relieve muscle cramps.
- If it isn’t possible to get a whole-body massage, concentrate on the main muscles you will be using. Most sports put a demand on the leg and back muscles, so massage these areas thoroughly.
- Use fast movements for pre-exercise massage. Rapid pummeling or kneading will stimulate your muscles and increase the blood supply.
- During exercise, metabolic waste products, such as lactic and carbolic acids and urea, are released into the muscles. The accumulation of these wastes can cause stiffness and pain. While the lymphatic system drains waste out of the cells, the process can take several hours or even days. Massage, with its pumping and stroking action, may speed the process.
- It is essential to keep muscles warm after exercise, so make sure that you are in a well-heated room, or that you are warmly dressed.
- If you have time, massage the whole body. Begin by massaging firmly, with movements going toward the heart. Finish with gentle, stroking motions.
- If there is any sign of injury, avoid the area until you have consulted a doctor.
SPORT-BY-SPORT MASSAGE GUIDE
- Every sport stresses particular muscles, and these are the ones you should focus on with pre- or post-exercise massage.
- Skiing: Major leg muscles (hamstrings, quadriceps) and back muscles; cross-country skiers should also massage their shoulders.
- Cycling: Muscles of the legs, back, and shoulders.
- Tennis: Shoulder muscles (deltoids), the back, biceps, triceps, forearms, and legs.
- Golf: Same as for tennis.
- Running: Muscles of the legs and back, including the upper back and neck.
Swedish massage and Japanese shiatsu are the most common types of professional massage. Sports massage, a comparatively new technique, combines elements of the two.
- Swedish massage is a deep, muscle-kneading treatment that stimulates the soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons. Swedish massage helps induce relaxation and relieve muscle soreness.
- Shiatsu is also known as acupressure. Guided by the ancient belief that the body’s life energy (called qi) runs through 12 major meridians, a shiatsu practitioner applies pressure to points where energy may be blocked. Because pressure is applied firmly, this type of massage may be uncomfortable, but the overall effect is invigorating.
- Sports massage is vigorous and focuses on muscles that may have been stressed during a workout. Anyone who exercises regularly or suffers from a sports-related injury can benefit from this therapeutic massage.
FINDING A MASSAGE THERAPIST
- How can you tell if massage therapists are competent? what training they have received and check their references. If you live in a state that requires licensing, make sure the therapist is licensed. The American Massage Therapy Association in Evanston, Illinois, will give referrals, as will accredited massage schools.
- A responsible massage therapist will ask about your medical history before beginning. People with diabetes, cardiac problems, varicose veins, high fever, cancer, or infectious diseases should avoid massage or should get the advice of a physician first.