Regardless of the type of sport you choose, warm up, cool down and stretching are important to fitness improvement. Including recovery periods in your weekly schedule is crucial to fitness, as well. To maximize the benefits to your heart and safeguard against injuries, it is good to include all three of the following phases into your workout session:
2. Exercise in target heart rate zone
3. Cool-down and stretching
A proper warm-up prior to an exercise session prepares your heart and muscles for the action that lies ahead. It stimulates blood circulation and makes muscles more flexible. It can also prevent injuries. Begin each workout slowly, giving your body a chance to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at a heart rate below your selected target zone. Then gradually increase the intensity of your exercise until your heart rate reaches your target zone.
Whenever you exercise, be sure to stretch.
Stretch first after your warm-up, when your muscles aren’t so tight, and again after the cool-down period. Stretching for five minutes after you warm up will improve your workout and may prevent injuries.
Why? Because repetitive exercise tends to reduce muscle flexibility. Also, tissues like muscle and skin lose elasticity with age. So if you increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, maintaining muscular flexibility in your lower legs, thighs, gluteas and back will become even more important.
Without proper stretching, your range of motion will become limited, which will adversely affect e.g. your skiing technique. Tightness in the hamstrings can decrease your stride length, forcing you to expend more energy to make up the difference.
There are stretching techniques for almost every major muscle group. If you aren’t familiar with different techniques, consult any sports physiologist or coach for advice. Below are some tips to help you stretch properly no matter what technique you use.
1. Never stretch cold muscles. Be sure to warm them up before stretching.
2. Hold each stretch to give your muscle time to adapt to the stretch.
3. Never bounce in a stretching pose or force a muscle into a position that causes pain.
4. Relax and breathe deeply and slowly while holding each stretch position.
5. If you are stretching your arms, legs or sides, remember to stretch both sides.
6. Optimally complete 3–5 reps of each stretch.
7. Hold pre-workout stretches for about 10 seconds.
8. Hold post-workout stretches for up to 30 seconds.
EXERCISE IN TARGET ZONE
Once your heart rate has reached your target zone, maintain that intensity for a set amount of time (typically 20 minutes or more), making sure you stay inside your target zone. It’s important to be sensitive to your body’s reactions while you exercise. Be sure to keep your breathing regular. If you feel exceptionally breathless or dizzy, you’re probably working too hard (and pushing your heart rate beyond your target zone), so ease up a little.
Cool down by gradually reducing the intensity of your exercise to bring your heart rate back down to below your target zone. Then, stretch the main muscles you just worked to prevent injury and stiffness.