When beginning a fitness routine, strength training is often the focus. As your muscles grow stronger, you also grow leaner, more fit. While strengthening exercises are an important part of fitness, without the balance of stretching to maintain flexibility, you may put your body at risk for avoidable injuries, especially in the back.
Focus on Mobility
It’s important to ease into a new fitness routine. Rushing things can result in injuries which will set back your efforts. The lower extremities are the most critical in terms of mobility. Calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and the fronts of the thighs are critical to mobility. It’s also important to stretch the shoulders, neck, and lower back for a complete stretching routine. Start slowly, stretching one muscle group at a time. When you try new stretching positions, don’t overextend your limbs. Stretch the muscle out just to the point of discomfort, and hold the position for several seconds, before slowly releasing. Repeat stretching exercises for fifteen to twenty minutes before engaging in vigorous exercise.
Don’t Neglect Your Back
When lifting weights, you’re always advised to protect your back. You’ll spend time learning the proper techniques and positions. You may even wear a supportive garment or brace to ensure that you don’t cause back injury while lifting weights. Did you know that your stretching routine also protects your back?
As the hamstrings grow stronger and tighter, they pull at the pelvis, causing a posterior pelvic tilt, which changes the curvature of the spine, putting you at risk for back injury. By taking the time to stretch before working out, you help retain the muscles flexibility as well as strength, protecting your posture and in turn, your back.
Stretching vs. Warming Up
While you focus on mobility and strength training, balancing building lean muscle with retaining and improving flexibility, don’t neglect your pre-workout warm-up and post-workout cooldown routines. Several minutes of brisk walking or similar activity activates the muscle fibers, increasing circulation and preparing the muscles to ease into your stretching routine and workout. By taking care with your preparation, you can increase the overall effectiveness of your workouts, avoid injury, and reach your fitness goals.