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Don’t Skimp When it Comes to Stretching!

An old friend, Shannon Palermo, posted the following comment on my LauraLovesFitness Facebook page:

So, what is the recommendation when it comes to cardio and stretching? I walk/run on a treadmill at home. Do I warm up then stretch or stretch first or stretch after? Also any suggested stretches? I recently pulled a muscle in my hip causing me to be sidelined with major hip and knee pain. I believe this is due to my lack of stretching and my need for new sneakers.

These questions raise several important issues, but first and foremost is the subject of pain.  Whether you’re a fitness novice or trained athlete, if you really listen to your body, you can tell the difference between muscle soreness from an intense workout and pain that indicates something is wrong. If you experience “major” pain in any area, you could be suffering from an acute or cumulative injury.  I’ve been the victim of many cumulative injuries because of one simple reason: I’ve ignored the warning signs and simply pushed through the pain.

If you experience pain that causes significant discomfort and doesn’t subside with ice and/or over-the-counter pain killers for more than a day or two, you should see your doctor.  When you let an injury linger, other parts of your body will compensate for the injury, throwing off your body’s proper mechanics and causing postural distortions. In the end, an injury to your foot will lead to compensations that create stress on other parts of your body’s kinetic chain – and you can easily end up with pain in your knees, hips or back. For my friend Shannon, if you’re simply guessing that you pulled a muscle and haven’t seen a doctor, please make an appointment soon.

As for stretching: the jury may still be out on when to stretch, but there is no debate about the fact that everyone needs to include flexibility training in their workout routine. As I learned through my NASM training, countless studies show a link between decreased flexibility and injury.  For example, decreased flexibility in the hamstrings and quadriceps significantly contributes to tendonitis in the knee.

NASM’s training model includes stretching as part of a warm up and again during the cool down period of your workout. The stretching-before-cardio-or-strength-training idea is stretch the muscles that may be tight so that you perform an exercise as optimally as possible and reduce the risk for improper movement and injury.  For a runner like Shannon, it’s optimal to stretch certain muscles like the hamstrings and hip flexors before a hitting the treadmill or the road. Here are two links I found helpful about stretching:

http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_1/126.shtml

http://www.stretchingworld.com/staticstretching.html

We’ve only scratched the surface and I look forward to writing more about injury prevention and flexibility training , but I hope the information in this post is a good  start to proving why stretching is a crucial part of our quest to have fun, be fit and feel fabulous!

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