I've gotten into the habit of walking into the gym and beginning my workout without warming up. Should I stretch or warm up? What's the best practice?
For a lot of people, going to the gym and hopping on the treadmill or grabbing some dumbbells is the easy part. But, taking 10 or 15 minutes to make sure the body is properly prepared for the work ahead is often another story.
Warming up is essential to a good workout—it is the cornerstone to staying limber and flexible! Warm-ups prime your nervous system; prepare your muscles; increase the delivery of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to your muscles; and ready your mind for exercise and performance. Cold muscles are more susceptible to injury.
"OK, Obi. I'll just do some standing quad stretches before my front squats. Happy?" Actually, no. Recent research indicates that static stretching does little to increase flexibility or prevent injuries. A better choice is to begin your workouts with some dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretches are active. So, instead of sitting down and then pulling or pushing your legs and arms, you're constantly moving. The active motion helps your body maintain a higher core body temperature. Also, science has shown that dynamic stretching is better at preparing the body for a workload than static stretching. It's also better for gaining flexibility and achieving full range of motion.
To do a dynamic stretching routine, choose 3-4 of the movements below. Do them circuit style, or do a few sets of each movement. It's also beneficial to jog for 5-7 minutes before you begin a dynamic stretching routine.
No More Static Stretches?
Research suggests that static stretches are a great way to cool down after a training session. And, if you need to release a muscle that's not a primary mover, sometimes a static stretch is the only thing that works. Don't stretch a primary mover while working it out—stretching your pecs between sets of bench press is not a good practice.
In general, dynamic stretching before you train and static stretching after you train is a great way to warm up and cool down. By taking the time to warm up and stretch before any workout, you'll minimize the chance of injury.