Week four: Say cheese!

Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese

No, you did not click on the wrong tab.  No, I did not mistakenly post the nutrition article on the exercise page.  If you meant to go to the exercise tab and read the exercise article, you are on the correct page.  And no, I haven’t gone off the deep end.  Not yet, anyway!

So what on earth does cheese have to do with exercise?  I’ll tell you.  This week we’re talking about the proper way to stretch your muscles when working out.  Bet you’re still confused as to how cheese fits into all of this.  I’ll explain first by asking you a question, then by giving an analogy.  First, the question.

Q:  When is the proper time to stretch when exercising?

  1. Before beginning your workout
  2. During your workout
  3. At the end of your workout

If you’re like most people, you probably answered “1. before beginning your workout.”  You see it all the time – in real life at the gym, in aerobics classes, walking tracks, even in the movies – people stretching, bending and twisting before beginning any exercise at all.  Without a doubt, that is the most dangerous time to stretch your muscles.

Why is it so dangerous?  The answer is simple – cold muscles are not pliable, warm muscles are.  To help you understand, I’ll use cheese as an analogy for your muscles.  Let’s say you take a block of cheese out of the refrigerator and cut a slice.  While the slice is still cold, you take it in your fingers and pull from each end.  The cheese slice breaks in half.  But, if you take that same slice of cheese and let it become warmed up a little, even just to room temperature, it’s pliable.  If you pull from each end it stretches without breaking.  The warmer the cheese becomes the more yielding it is to stretching.

It’s the same way with your muscles.  Stretch them without warming up a little and you risk injury.  A short warm-up (five minutes for light workouts, 10 minutes for higher intensities) gradually increases the blood flow to your muscles and helps them to become more flexible and work more effectively.  Your performance will be improved; therefore you’ll get the maximum benefit from your workout.

Stretching at the end of your workout is just as important.  When you exercise, lactic acid builds up in your muscles, which can cause soreness and fatigue.  Stretching not only reduces these symptoms, it helps your muscles to recover faster and improve your overall flexibility.

Here are some good stretching dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

Do:

  • Be sure to do a light warmup of five – 10 minutes before stretching, such as a brisk walk, jogging in place, or a few minutes on a bike or treadmill on low resistance.
  • Stretch out your major muscles groups such as upper and lower legs, hips, back, neck and shoulders.
  • Stretch out one muscle group at the time – the fewer muscles you stretch at once, the better control you have over how intensely you can stretch that group.
  • Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.
  • Keep the movements gentle and slow.
  • Be consistent and make it a part of every workout for increased overall flexibility and range of motion.

Don’ts

  • Don’t use stretching as your warmup. You may suffer injury to your muscles if you try to stretch them “cold.”  Remember the cheese analogy!
  • Don’t bounce or make sudden moves.
  • Don’t stretch until it hurts.  You should feel slight tension but not pain.  Pain indicates you’re stretching too far and in danger of injury.

Bet from now on whenever you’re stretching you’ll think of cheese!

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