We all know how important it is to stretch before exercising. Stretching increases flexibility and range of motion, thus lessening your risk of injury. However, your stretching routine becomes even more important during the cold winter months. When your body is cold, your muscles contract to conserve heat, making them tighter, less supple, and more prone to injury. Below are four tips on how to properly keep up with this important step in your winter workouts:
Before you begin your stretching routine, take a few minutes to warm up. Stretching a cold muscle can actually result in the type of injury we are trying to avoid. Instead, start with a brisk walk or jog. This kind of mild aerobic exercise is a great way to get the blood flowing to your muscles, preparing them to be stretched.
In colder weather, most experts agree that a dynamic – rather than static – stretching routine is preferred. This means gentle repetitive motions, such as leg kicks or arm circles, as opposed to stretching a muscle and holding the pose for a short duration. Dynamic stretches are great when it is cold outside, because they both stretch your muscles and get your blood pumping, keeping you warmed up and ready for your workout. Here are two dynamic stretches you might want to add to your cold weather routine:
- Arm Circles: Hold your arms out straight, palms down, and begin circling them. Start with small circles, then slowly increase the movements, keeping your shoulders relaxed. When you cannot increase the size of the circles anymore, stop and change directions, decreasing the size until you return to center.
- Forward Lunge: Standing with your feet together and hands on hips, take a big step forward with one leg. Bend that knee to a 90 degree angle, lowering your other knee toward the floor. Keep your upper body straight as you lower into the stretch, then push back to standing and repeat several times before switching to the other leg.
During Your Workout
If you will be participating in an outdoor sport that might leave you standing motionless for some periods of time, take that time to complete a few more dynamic stretches in order to keep your muscles warm. Circle your arms, do a few lunges, or even just jog in place to keep the blood pumping. Remember that cold, stiff muscles are more easily injured, so you want to keep yourself feeling warmed up at all times.
Stretching can be a great way to cool down after your workout as well. After an intense physical activity, the slow, measured pace of static stretching can help lower your heart rate – and it will feel great on those muscles you have been using. Just remember to never stretch a muscle to the point of pain.
The cold weather is no reason to avoid getting out and enjoying the fresh air this winter. Dress warmly and get a proper stretching routine in place, and you can continue to enjoy your outdoor workout all year long!