By Jared Anderson, MD, Lake Stevens Family Medicine/Sports Medicine
A few years ago, I thought I should run a marathon. The next morning, I went to the YMCA and ran 26.2 miles on the treadmill. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but for the next week, I could not walk properly and had trouble getting up the stairs.
While this might be an exaggerated example, all too often we head out with excitement to start an exercise program with high expectations and end up side-lined with injuries instead. Performing stretches to warm-up is the key to prevent injuries caused by doing too much, too soon. When you think of stretching you may have images of your middle school P.E. class where you leaned against a wall to stretch calves prior to going on a run. This type of stretch is referred to as traditional or static stretching.
Static stretches are important in some instances, but have not been shown to be as effective in preventing injury. A more beneficial warm-up includes dynamic stretching: stretches which combine movement and flexibility at the same time. Actively using the muscles to be used in exercise at a lower intensity and under a lower load decreases injury by:
- Improving balance and coordination
- Warming up deep muscles and increasing muscle elasticity
- Coordinating muscle group activation and inhibiting antagonist muscles
- Stimulating the nervous system and providing preparation for a workout
Employing a dynamic warm-up does not have to extend a workout time and may help you reach fitness goals by improving performance and limiting injuries. Flexibility is a key component to anyone’s health, no matter your activity level. Start small, be consistent and you will find all aspects of your health improve.