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Warm Up & Cool Down: What are the differences when stretching?

iStock_000011410033XSmallThough there are disputes over the effectiveness and therefore necessity of warm-up and cool-downs pre and post exercise, they pose no harm preparing your body for exercise and then helping it back into rest mode.

The warm up acts as preparation, gradually increasing the flow of blood to your muscles which will help loosen them to be suppler and less susceptible to injury during exercise.

The cool down helps to lower your heart rate safely, reducing your body temperature and getting rid of any built up lactic acid which may cause stiffness and soreness in the days following intense exercise.

However the type of stretch you do for each will differ.

The 2 types of stretching are:

  • Dynamic Stretching
  • Static Stretching

Warm up Stretching

The main aim of warming up is to get the muscles that will be used throughout the exercise ready, so it’s best to mimic what you’ll be doing with Dynamic Stretches.

This is basically stretching whilst moving.

More so than static stretching, dynamic stretching has been recognised as increasing the range of movement, blood and oxygen flow to soft tissues prior to exertion, therefore reducing the risk of injury.

Examples of Dynamic Stretching:

  • Rotate the arms in a circular motion starting slowly with small circles and gradually increasing the size of the circle and speed to which you rotate. Ensure you keep the movement fluid. Repeat both forwards and backwards.
  • Swing your right leg forward and back to stretch the hamstring. Start this movement small and slow and gradually increase the intensity whilst staying within a comfortable stretch. Repeat on the left leg.
  • Rotate the hip, by standing on your right leg and taking the knee of your left leg up to a 90 degree angle, swing the left leg outwards opening up the hip flexor before replacing your foot back on the floor. Continue this movement in a fluid circular motion. Then repeat with the right leg.
  • Rotate your upper body by standing with your feet shoulder width apart, hold your arms in a boxing face defence position and rotate your body from left to right without moving your feet. Gradually increase the pace and range of movement as you continue into the stretch.

Cool Down Stretching

The aim of the cool down is to get your heart rate back down to normal and reduce your body temperature, so it’s advised to use the Static Stretch.

This is stretching and holding for a minimum of 30 seconds without movement.

There is controversy around the benefit of static stretching with some believing it makes athletes weaker since it increases flexibility, but there are still many who believe it is necessary to release the build up of lactic acid and in repairing your body ready for the next session.

Examples of Static Stretching:

  • Bring one arm across the body and with your other hand bring the arm towards you. Lean into the stretch, and hold for at least 30 seconds when you feel a gentle pull in your muscle. Repeat on the other arm.
  • Bring your right arm up over the head and reach down behind your back, take the left arm up to hold the right elbow. Lean into the stretch, and hold for at least 30 seconds when you feel a gentle pull in your muscle. Repeat on the other arm.
  • Bring the right leg out in front with your toes pointing to the ceiling, bend forward at the waist and bend the left leg putting your hands on your left knee. Lean into the stretch, and hold for at least 30 seconds when you feel a gentle pull in your muscle. Repeat on the other leg.
  • Place your left arm out to the side parallel to the floor, take your right foot and hold it up behind you bending at the knee so it touches your bottom. Take your right hand to hold your right foot in place. Lean into the stretch, and hold for at least 30 seconds when you feel a gentle pull in your muscle. Repeat on the other leg.
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