It’s kinda crazy that it took four steps to get to “movement preparation,” but this is just what active stretching is called.
Remember back in the days when you would hold static stretches before you exercised? I still see people doing this…going straight from the locker room to the stretching mat and doing seated forward bends and holding calf and quad stretches before going to the elliptical machine or treadmill. We know better now. First, it’s not good to stretch cold muscles. If you must do static stretches, it’s much better to do five minutes of jumping rope or fast walking first, as the increased blood flow to the muscles helps to warm them up and may increase their elasticity. It also turns out that stretching a muscle statically (holding the stretch for 20-30 seconds) may actually decrease its ability to perform strength and power moves. So if you are intending to lift weights, it will benefit you to find better ways to stretch prior to your workout, and do the static stretches at the end.
A better way to stretch cold muscles and get them ready to work is to stretch them actively. This simply means to stretch your muscles while they are in the act of moving. This is a dynamic process. Nothing is held for time. You simply wake your muscles up by asking them to move into stretched positions. A great example of this is the “inchworm,” one of my favorites. Here is a great example of this. Notice that the hamstrings and calves get a great stretch as they are working.
Another great exercise for the upper body targets the front of the shoulders and the upper back. This is much harder than it looks, especially when you keep your butt, upper back, head, forearms, and wrists touching the wall the entire time. Check it out here:
Walking lunges are a great way to warm up for running or lower body weight lifting. To increase the stretch in the hip flexors, add a twist in the direction of the forward lunging leg. Check this out here:
These are some of my favorite movement preparation exercises. I will also do a few sets (if I am lifting weights) or a few minutes (if I am doing cardio) at a much lighter intensity level than what I do normally as more movement prep. After all, the best way to prepare to do something is to do it…with a very light load. This tells both your muscles and your brain to get ready for what is to come.