How to Avoid Injury When Doing Exercise
The health benefits of regular exercise are no secret to most of us. We also know that warming up before exercise is important to prevent injury and enhance the benefits of exercise. These days, most of us even know that proper warm-ups should include a healthy dose of stretching. But what if the way we’ve been taught to stretch is wrong – or at least less likely to prevent injury than we’ve been led to believe?
Let’s explore the latest science on how to stretch properly to minimise the chance of preventable injuries and maximise the benefits of exercise for your health and wellbeing.
The Power of the Warm Up
While you probably know that warming up is important, you may not understand why it’s so critical. Warm ups before exercise prepare your body for physical activity by increasing your blood flow, heart rate and body temperature. This in turn increases delivery of oxygen to your muscles, making them more pliable and less susceptible to injury, while also activating your central nervous system and improving your reaction time and coordination.
In addition, a proper warm-up can help prevent muscle soreness by increasing synovial fluid production, thereby lubricating your joints and reducing the likelihood of muscle strains or tears by preparing your muscles for the rigours of your exercise regime.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
While stretching has long been hailed as an integral part of any warm-up regime, not all stretching delivers the benefits you might expect.
There are two primary kinds of stretching: static and dynamic stretching.
Static stretching entails holding your stretch in a fixed position for a certain time period. This kind of stretching is best suited for cooling down post exercise or for improving flexibility, much like in a Yoga class.
Dynamic stretching, however, entails moving your muscles and joints through a range of motion in a controlled way. It’s this type of stretching that’s ideal for pre-exercise warm ups because it simulates the actions or movements you’ll be doing in your exercise routine. In fact, dynamic stretching can also help increase flexibility, range of motion, and blood flow to your muscles, while improving your neuromuscular function by triggering the muscles you’ll need for exercise.
When to do Dynamic Stretching
Ideally, start your dynamic stretching just a few minutes after some light cardio and before you begin your main workout or exercise regime. Even one or two dynamic stretches of 45-60 seconds for each muscle group that you’ll be using during exercise is a great place to start. Over time, you can then further increase the intensity of your dynamic stretches with movements like jumping jacks or burpees to enhance muscle activation.
Types of dynamic stretches
There are numerous kinds of dynamic stretches that you can include in your warm-ups. Here are four examples to draw on:
Stand while holding onto a wall or sturdy object and swing one leg forward and backward while keeping your torso stable (45-60 for each leg).
Take a big step forward with one foot and lower your body so your front knee is at a 90-degree angle. Push off your front foot to stand back up and repeat on the other leg (45-60 seconds on each leg).
Stand on the spot and lift one knee to your waist level, then lower it back down and repeat on the other leg (45-60 seconds for each leg).
While standing, extend your arms to the side and make small circles with your arms, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Then reverse the direction (45-60 seconds for each arm).
So where to from here? While there’s no fail safe solution to prevent injuries during exercise, implementing a proper warm up regime that incorporates dynamic stretching is a helpful way to minimise the chance of injury and maximise the benefits of your workouts.
Happy stretching and reach out if you have any questions for our team!
Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy from Melbourne University. Since then, he has had over 21 years of experience as a physiotherapist and is also a qualified D.M.A. Clinical Pilates Practitioner.