A Stretch In Time

by DavalosMcCormack on November 12, 2008

Back when I used to play soccer I remember coming out on to the pitch with a couple of team mates, kicking the ball around. One lad moved off to the side to do some stretching while the rest of us just jogged around lazily, kicking the ball and having a laugh.

All of a sudden we heard this horrible scream and looked around to see our friend lying on the ground clutching his hamstring. He had ripped it. Even today I wince when I think about the memory.

The problem is he was stretching cold, putting strain on muscles and tendons that weren’t ready for it.

Why does that happen? Well, imagine taking a rubber band, putting it in the fridge and then trying to stretch it out. Because it’s cold the band doesn’t have as much elasticity as it does when it is warm so it doesn’t stretch very well and breaks much more readily. Now think of that rubber band as your muscle, you need to warm it up before you stretch it.

Growing up we were always taught to stretch before working out, but now we know that was exactly the wrong thing to do. You need to warm muscles and tendons up before stretching them.

That means jogging around, loosely, easily, to get blood flowing, getting just a little out of breath. By moving blood to the areas you plan on exercising you are bringing more oxygen there as well, this all helps as you increase the intensity.

A study from researchers at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (and let’s face it, with so many Cirque de Soleil shows in Las Vegas they know something about stretching and flexibility) found that you generate less force from your muscles if you stretch them before exercise, than if you don’t stretch them. The difference was almost 30 percent in some cases.

So how do you warm up properly? It’s the easiest thing in the world. Just jog. Skip. Hop. Bounce along sideways. Any activity that gets blood flowing, muscles working, heart pumping, but not too much, is all you need.

The idea is to ease into whatever activity you are doing. When Shirley and I play squash we spend five to ten minutes just warming up, hitting the ball back and forth to each other. At first we just let the ball bounce as many times as it wants until it reaches us. But as we get warmed up we start to move around the court, chasing the ball. By the time the warm up is over we’re starting to sweat a little, breathe a bit harder. We know we are ready for the actual game.

As for my ex-team mate, the one who injured himself even before the game started, well, the next time we saw him was after the game, he seemed quite comfortable, as you might imagine he would be with a couple of pints of Old Boddington’s Extra Strong ale under his belt. We weren’t quite so happy. Down to just ten men from the start of the game because of his injury we lost the game by one goal. He bought us all a pint. We forgave him. No point in clinging to those things now is there!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: