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.
Got your attention, didn’t I?
I wish it were that simple, but alas, it does take some planning and some discipline.
The first easy step is to find out why you want to be fit! How simple. You don’t even need running shoes for this one. Take out a sheet of paper and list as many ways you can come up with to answer the following:
“I want to be fit because…..”
Aim for at least 20 reasons. If you can’t think of 20, go back to number one, and ask yourself, “Why is that important to me?” Then do the same for number 2, 3, 4…,
This is an important step, so although you may think it sounds stupid, don’t skip it. Now scan down your list, and underline the things that matter most to you, not to your doctor, or your parents, or spouse, or friends…just to you. This is the real list…the one you want to post on your bathroom mirror, or some similar spot where you are sure to see it every day.
The second easy step is to discover what you love to do for exercise. This may occur as you remember what you loved as a kid playing outside for hours, or it may mean getting brave and trying a few new things. It doesn’t have to be marathon running or swimming the English Channel. It just has to be something where you move…and something where, when you want to, you can increase the intensity enough to get your heart rate up and breathe deeply.
The third easy step is to DO IT. Every day. Start small…maybe just 5-10 minutes. But commit to doing something every day (unless you are sick, of course).
I heard a great mantra about this somewhere:
Stand up. Take a step. Repeat.
Some days, you may not feel motivated! Surprise, surprise. But that happens to everyone. Don’t let it stop you! Look at your list from #1, then tell yourself to go out and do a little bit. Sometimes when I do that, I end up having the best workout ever.
There is no good reason not to do this. There are so many reasons to do this, that I will make it a separate post.