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Marsh column: Remember warm-up, cool-down, stretching

Q. You always mention warm-ups and cool-downs and stretching as being part of a workout. What are the benefits of that?
A. Let’s start with the warm-up ó the main purpose of a warm-up is to slowly raise your heart rate, beginning with small movements of the joints to big movements of the joints.
An example can be doing shoulder rolls and then bent arm rolls, finishing with extended arm rolls; or marching in place, marching with your knees up high and then running in place. If you don’t, you put your heart, lungs, and circulation into high gear at the beginning. You wouldn’t start revving your car when it is still cold ó it could do damage to the engine. The same goes for your heart.
Stretching is used to prepare your body for the movement and the workout to come. It can in most cases prevent injuries and soreness due to an inadequate warm-up and stretch.
Unfortunately, stretching is put on the back burner by many people who work out regularly. If they do stretch, they don’t spend enough time stretching before or after. Many people I know have gotten injured by just being too tight.
Your cool-down is important because as in the warm-up (which slowly raises the heart rate), you now want to slowly lower the heart rate. After a hard cardio workout, your heart is pumping and your lungs are burning. If you stop immediately, blood could possibly pool in the extremities.
When you exercise, your heart is pumping your blood rapidly throughout your body. In your lungs, the exchange takes place to change the “used” blood ó or de-oxygenated ó blood with fresh, or oxygenated, blood that can go back to the organs, tissues and muscles.
If you stop abruptly, your heart has pumped so hard that a lot of your blood is in the extremities, making the blood volume near your heart (and lungs) low. This condition (blood pooling) can make you pass out. So in other words ó cool down!
Stretching after your workout can help prevent muscle soreness, and after you are nice and warm from the workout, you can actually challenge your body to increase your flexibility. Again, proper flexibility prevents lots of injuries. If you have ever been in physical therapy, the majority of the time the therapist does exercises with you to lengthen and strengthen the area that has been injured or needs rehabilitation.
Anyone who has had major knee surgery remembers that “torture device” which makes your leg go into flexion mode (bending). Just looking at it makes me cringe!
However, within time you can bend your knee further and are on your way to recovery.
So please take your time to properly warm up, gently stretch, work out, cool down and stretch again.
Your body will thank you.

Ester Marsh is associate executive director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA. Contact her with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or emarsh@rowanymca.com.

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