Tight muscles. Waning body temperature. Sluggish blood flow. Sound like a set-up for injury? You're right. Regardless of your personal workout choice, one truth applies to everyone: Preparation can prevent injury.
Many common exercise injuries stem from overlooking two basics: warm-up and stretching. Take a closer look...
Warm-up: Before you get started, your blood flow is not what it's going to be. If you're exercising in the morning, blood flow and body temperature are at their daily low. The idea of a warm-up is to swing your body into gear gradually -- not suddenly. A good warm-up consists of slow, deliberate, rhythmic movements -- such as very light bend-and-back movements for waist, arms, legs, and more. Keep it up for five minutes to increase your blood flow gradually. This is called warm-up because it actually makes your muscles warm!
Stretch: After the warm-up, stretch. Why not first? A warm muscle stretches better than a cold one. Like the warm-up, this session should be lightly paced. Focus on each group of muscles you will use in your workout -- head, neck, back, arms, shoulders, pelvis, upper legs, lower legs, and feet. You need to loosen up muscles, and focus on range of motion.
A good stretch lengthens muscle fibers. Long, loose fibers are less vulnerable to injury during exercise. For specific stretches targeted for your activity, consult your trainer, coach, or exercise specialist.
Six rules that make stretching really work:
If you're starting a new routine or joining forces with a new exercise machine, devote extra attention to your stretch. This may be a time when you're most prone to injury, because you may use a muscle differently -- or more intensively.
Finally, don't abuse your muscles. Over-aggressive stretching can actually bring on microtrauma, which is a tiny amount of tissue damage. Pushing your workout too hard or too fast can do the same thing. The problem with microtrauma is that it tends to keep happening. You may not be aware of the ongoing process until finally, you experience full-blown injury.
To avoid microtrauma, follow the stretching rules above. And limit your increases in training time and intensity to about 10% per week. Finally, if you experience minor pains or soreness during or after exercise, don't ignore them. Back off, and consult your medical practitioner.
Clearly, exercise injury is proof of what Mom always told you: Prevention is easier than cure. And prevention can be as simple as common-sense preparation and listening to your body.