Ever since you can remember, I’m sure you have been told about the importance of warming up before engaging in sports and strenuous physical activity. You’ve probably been told that a proper warm up will decreasing the likelihood of injuries such as pulling a muscle or getting a cramp.
In the past, we all were told to stretch when warming up. Now many athletic trainers are saying that stretching is an “old school” mentality and should not be done when the body is cold. It is now said that stretching should be done after the workout. The new mentality for warming up with many trainers is more along the lines of light activity to get a slight sweat going to get the body warm.
Warming up does increase your flexibility. However, if you have ever gotten a cramp or pulled a muscle, think about what happened. Was it a result of being stretched beyond your flexibility? Was your body already warmed up when it happened?
From my personal experience with martial arts training, most people got cramps or pulled muscles when they exerted themselves very hard rather than being stretched beyond their range of motion. Most of the time, this also happens well into the training or workout when the body was already warm.
Cramps and muscle pulls are caused my muscular imbalances in the body. When you have an imbalance, certain muscles are not working properly, so other muscle groups must pick up the slack and perform functions that they may not be designed to do. When you really push yourself, there is a point in which those compensating muscles can’t exert any harder and that is when you may get a cramp or pull. This is your body’s automatic defense mechanism to stop further damage.
Warming up by light activity or stretching will not decrease your chances of these problems one single bit due to the fact that it does not restore muscular balance. A body with muscular balance can go right into blasting with 100% physical exertion without any additional warming up. You should also be wary of random stretching at the end of a workout as part of the “cool down”as it can increase muscular imbalances.
So the best way to prevent muscular injuries is to do a short pre-workout program that establishes muscular balance in the body. Similarly, if you get a cramp or muscle pull, the best way to resolve the problem is also to restore that balance. In addition, after working out, rather than random stretching, a short post-workout program would be advisable in order to negate any imbalances that may have been caused by the workout.