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Many people, when new to working out, focus so much on the actual activity that they forget to consider their warm-up and cool-down stretches. And while those simple stretches may seem unimportant before the “meat and potatoes” of the workout, so to speak, stretching plays a crucial role in fitness and well-being of everyone who is working out.
Warming up and stretching before a workout has many benefits; it:
- Raises body temperature
- Reduces incidence of injuries
- Increases blood flow to the muscles
- Improves flexibility and range of motion
It is important to stretch each muscle that you’ll be using during your workout. Here are 7 stretches that are essential before every workout.
- Joint rotations: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your arms hanging at your sides. Gently bend and rotate each of your joints, starting with your neck and shoulders, then elbows, wrists, fingers, hips, knees, ankles, feet and toes.
- Neck mobility: Tuck your chin into your chest and then lift it upwards. Next, lower your left ear towards your left shoulder and then your right ear to your right shoulder. Finally, with your head facing forward, turn your chin towards your left shoulder, then rotate it towards your right shoulder. Move through each of these movements slowly and purposefully. You should do at least 6 to 10 repetitions of each motion.
- Shoulder circles: Stand with your knees hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Raise your shoulders up towards your ears and circle your shoulders back and down, and then back up towards your ears again. Do this several times to loosen up your shoulder joints.
- Arm swings: While still standing tall with legs hip-width apart and knees slightly bent, swing your arms straight out in front of you in a circular motion from the front your body, up towards your head and around towards your back. Do this at least 6 to 10 times. Next, swing your arms out to your side and then cross them in front of your chest at least 6 to 10 times as well.
- Side bends: Lift your arms up over your head and grasp your hands together. Lift your midsection up towards the sky and bend slightly towards one side—you should feel the stretch on the opposite side of your body. Raise your arms back over your head while you move to a standing position and then stretch to the other side. Hold each stretch for a few seconds and repeat several times.
- Knee to chest: Stand with your legs together. Bring one knee up and focus on hugging your shin into your chest. You can bring that leg back down while either standing still or walking forward. Make sure to alternate which leg you raise to your chest so that you stretch both legs and hips equally.
- Lunges: Stand with your feet together. Pick up one foot and lunge forward, dropping your back knee towards the ground. To protect your knees, it is important to make sure to keep your forward knee above your toes and not lunge too far forward. Make sure to alternate your legs with each lunge forward, so that you stretch each side evenly.
Muscles that have been properly warmed up perform better, which allows you to get a better workout, faster results and enjoy another aspect of weight loss and healthy living.