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The Importance of Stretching and Pacing Yourself - The Lunch Hour Athlete

Training Log For: 10/05/09

Walk/Hike -- Matthew - 45 minutes
Walk -- Yvonne - 3 mi. 1 hr.

Posted by Matthew

For me, beginning a new workout routine or fitness plan was always similar to opening a present on Christmas day. At first you just admire the package (a well crafted workout plan), then once you begin to open the package, you rip the wrapping to shreds to gaze upon what is inside. In this metaphor, the lack of restraint in opening the present is analogous to starting a fitness regimen with reckless abandon. The result is usually an intense initial excitement followed by an inevitable lack of interest and motivation.

Recently, I have had the frustration of being presented with a new fitness plan and workout goal only to let my excitement dictate the intensity and pace of my training. The result was a leg injury that will most likely prevent me from running for three weeks and set me back several more weeks. The following is not simply a cautionary tale for the absolute beginner; I had been very physically active for the six months prior to this injury. However, after taking a two-week hiatus I neglected the two most important things when beginning (or resuming) increased physical activity: 1) stretch like your health depends on it and 2) moderate your training intensity to allow your body to adjust to the changes.

Throughout my years of lifting weights and participating in various sports, two of the fundamental rules were to always warm-up and stretch prior to beginning any fitness activity or workout. There are two good reasons that proper warming up and stretching is effective. Your body is constantly pumping blood throughout itself to both carry nutrients and accommodate all of the numerous biological functions that must take place in order for you to continue living. When you are exercising, whatever part of the body is being used the most increases it's demand for blood. When you warm-up, your muscles are allowed to slowly raise their temperature and increase their blood flow. Stretching prior to warming up produces the best results since your muscles are warmer and more pliable than when they are in a sedentary state.

Aside from preparing for more intense demand on blood flow, the second - and possibly most important - reason to warm-up and stretch is to prevent injury. When muscles are tight and more inelastic, the tension and stress on ligaments, tendons and bones increases dramtically. While your muscle may be physically able to endure the training and workout you have prepared for it, the supporting structures that the muscle attaches to may not have the ability to handle the workload. This leads to injuries and a possible loss of fitness gains that far outweigh starting out slower and smarter.

The moral of this story: do not undervalue the role of both stretching and gradually increasing intensity when either beginning a new workout, or returning from a fitness-break. Now I'm off to find new ways to train for a marathon during the next three weeks (without running). Oh, and if you do injure yourself, see a doctor. No amount of pride is worth risking additional pain and injuries.