Stretch… your fitness level

Pro Trainer for canfitpro, Ona MacDonald has been involved in the fitness industry for more than 40 years. We asked her for some expert advice that would benefit our readers and here are her suggestions. 

What is the importance of ‘warming up’ before any type of physical activity?

As we age, joints stiffen, muscles lose their elasticity, circulation slows down, and other medical conditions may interfere with range of motion. Warming up before starting any physical activity is always advised.

A good warm up will prepare the body and mind in a gentle manner by lubricating joints and muscles so that the body can move more freely to avoid injury. It activates blood flow to the working muscles and brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and joints, increasing blood pressure and temperature gradually. This prevents excess demand on the heart and fi res the nerve synapses that are essential in uniting the mind and body.

What is the typical length of time for an effective warm up routine?

Take from 10 to 15 minutes to warm up. As we age, the body’s response time to exercise slows down so more time is required to thoroughly warm up all of the body’s systems. If joints are arthritic, not functioning well, or cold weather conditions prevail, even more time may be necessary.

What are some examples of warm ups or stretches?

Your warm up and stretching should be tailored to suit the activity you are about to begin. There can be three parts of a warm up which can include a general warm up for the entire body, dynamic stretching for the specific joints, and static stretching done after the activity to relax the muscles. Some examples of each activity are below to get you started.

General Warm Ups:

Multi-joint movements are good choices to get the body warmed up in a shorter amount of time. Use both the lower body in conjunction with upper body movements such as: walking with arm swings – alternate, both together, across front of body, marching, knees up with arms, step touches with shoulder rolls, elbow and arm circles – alternate, both together.

Dynamic Stretches:

These stretches are performed using common movements around a joint within your normal range of motion. They help to warm up the area and further prepare for movement. Gentle leg swings – with front and back, sideways and in front of body shallow lunges moving side to side while standing with one foot forward, other foot back lift the front toes and then lift the back heel.

Static Stretches:

Before doing these static stretches make sure you have completed a gentle warm up doing whole body movement such as walking. Your muscles should be warm,moving with ease, feeling no pain, or have any joints shaking. Poor posture causes muscles to be short and tight.

The stretches below are aimed at opening up the affected areas.

Chest: Start by raising your arms, with bent elbows and placing your fingertips behind your ears. Gently move your elbows backwards as if they were to touch behind your head.

Hip Flexors: Start in a lunge position with one knee on the ground. Lean your body forward until you feel slight tension in the muscles on the front of the leg that has the knee on the ground. (Your front knee should not go past the end of your toe)

Hamstrings: Sit on the floor with both legs extended straight in front of you. Bend forward, from the hips, until you feel slight tension in the backs of your legs.

Low Back: Start by kneeling on the floor with your hands placed on the floor in line with your shoulders and with your knees under your hips. Gently arch your back towards the ceiling as you tuck your chin in towards your chest. Relax back to a neutral spine. 

For golfers, what are some recommended pre-activity exercise stretches that can help avoid injury and maximize performance on the course?

Before your game, start by doing a general warm up to get your entire body ready to play. Then, move into some dynamic stretching to help prepare your body for the rotation that occurs in golf. 

Start with your shoulders and work down to your hips:

• Arm swings, shoulder rolls, elbow circles, full arm circles

• Arm reaches – across the body, body trunk rotations – when turning, take the hips with you in the same direction

• Hip loosening – leg swings or full hip circles (like hula hooping)

• Side bends

• Lift knee to chest and hug

• Mini/half squats

• Shallow lunges side to side

• Roll up on toes, back on heels

As with all exercise we recommend always working within a pain free range of motion and progressing slowly. You may want to consider a strength training program to enhance performance and add further protection from injury. Also, if you are not sure how to complete the stretches correctly, work with a qualified fitness professional, to learn the correct method to help you stay active.

What is a good tip for reminding one’s self to stretch throughout the day and before an activity?

Doubling up, or stacking your activities, will help keep you moving without adding extra time to you day. Some examples are:

• Walk, or move, while on the phone

• Before every meal, do some dynamic stretches (see examples above)

• While cooking a meal, or waiting for the kettle to boil, do arm and shoulder rotations or some chest opening exercises

• While watching tv or a movie, sit in a hardbacked chair, and do some seated stretches

• Set a timer on your cell phone as a reminder to deep breathe and stretch

The top five tips

1. Always use proper form and technique. Hire a certifi ed personal trainer for guidance to safely progress and increase your activity.

2. Stand tall. Good posture helps everything.

3. Pay attention to a strain or injury. Take care and seek professional help before a an injury or pain becomes more serious.

4. Make sure the shoe fits. Buy good supportive runners from a reputable store, later in the day to be sure they fit you properly.

5. Apply heat to arthritic joints before exercise to help warm up the stiff regions.

Finally – Have fun. Join a group, use inspirational music, and find something you enjoy so that you stick with it!

Pro Trainer for canfitpro, Ona MacDonald has a degree in Physical & Health education, a BA in Education is a personal trainer and has taught group fitness, yoga, Pilates and aqua fitness.