Q: What do you suggest for warm-up and cool-down exercises?
A: The best kind of warm up before a tough workout is a few minutes of cardio (such as jumping rope or jumping jacks) followed by dynamic stretching. We were taught years ago to sit or stand and stretch one muscle group at a time. Contrary to popular belief, this kind of static stretching — which helps prevent muscle soreness and improves flexibility — is best performed AFTER a workout, when your muscles are very warm and loose.
In the past several years, fitness experts have discovered that there is a much more effective and healthy way to stretch BEFORE a workout: the dynamic stretch. Dynamic stretching is basically stretching with motion, so your body gets a chance to warm up the muscles slowly and in a functional way. It's a 1-2-3 punch: You warm up your body, get your heart rate up, and stretch all at the same time!
Below are some examples of dynamic stretches. Do them on a level surface for a total of about five minutes before you begin your workout. You will notice that with time the exercises will become easier and they will help improve your coordination, flexibility, and balance. Start by performing the exercises over a distance of about 30 yards; increase to 50 yards as you get more comfortable.
Purpose: To bend your hips and knees, stretch your glutes and hamstrings, and warm up your arms and calves.
The stretch: Take an exaggeratedly high step, driving your knee as high as possible, and simultaneously drive your opposite elbow forward. Make sure that you push up onto your toes so that your calf gets involved. Use a normal running arm motion, with a 90-degree angle at the elbow; elbow goes from chin level to as far back as possible while maintaining forward straight posture.
- Key points: Drive your knees up as high as possible; get up as high as you can on your toes; and drive your arms with each step.
Deep Side Lunge
- Purpose: To bend your hips and knees, and stretch your glutes and your groin.
- The stretch: Keep your torso upright and take a wide step out to the side. Lower your body so you are in the sumo squat position. Recover by bringing your feet together and standing upright. Never cross your feet. Keep your hands on your hips.
- Key point: The lower you lunge, the greater stretch you will achieve.
- Purpose: To stretch your lower back.
- The stretch: Stand with your hands on your hips. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing straight in front of you. Rotate from the waist to the right, then left. Go as far as you can while keeping your feet in the same position. Do the rotation about 25 times.
- Key point: Start slowly; as you get going, you can go a little faster, with more rotation.
Purpose: To stretch your quads.
- The stretch: This can be done walking or jogging. As you walk or jog, exaggerate the knee bend so that you are trying to kick yourself in the butt. You want your knee to point straight to the ground as your heel comes toward your butt. Keep your arms pumping in the normal running motion.
- Key point: The higher you get your heel and the more you keep your knee toward the ground (instead of coming up in front of you with hip flexion), the more of a quad stretch you'll get.
- Purpose: To stretch your pecs and loosen your upper back.
- The stretch: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms out to your sides and swing them forward, crossing one over the other, so that you hug yourself, then open them up and out to the sides so you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. Keep your stomach tight as you do this exercise and start slowly. Increase your speed and range of motion as you get warmed up. Repeat about 30 times.
- Key point: Cross your arms right over left and then left over right so you get equal stretching on both sides.