Stretching, warming up and cool down

Warming up is an important step before any workout. Training without warming up is the best way to get injured.

What athletes know less about is what to do at the end of training in terms of recovery. Why ? Because everything and its opposite are said, especially about stretching .

I want to set the record straight in a simple and clear way so that I don’t make you repeat the same mistakes I may have made (which have caused me injuries before). I will therefore base myself on the research I have done following this, on the theories but also on personal experience.

I suggest that I write this article in three parts: stretching, warming up and cool down.

The known benefits of easing (be careful, note the use of the conditional!)

  • The flexibilities could be beneficial in the event that the bodybuilding practitioner has a range of motion that is too low which does not allow him or her to sufficiently work the muscles that should be used during certain exercises. For example, a lack of flexibility of the knee extensors (such as the quadriceps) would not allow you to go down in full amplitude in the squat, which can interfere with muscle gain .
  • Muscle fibers are made up of myofilaments of actin and myosin, which when sliding over each other form “bridges”, corresponding to muscle contraction. The quality of the contraction depends among other things on the number of bridges: the muscle must have a so-called optimal length in order to create the greatest possible number of bridges. If the muscle is either too tight or too stretched, the quality of the contraction is reduced, and therefore the possibility of progression as well. Regular weight training would stiffen the muscles and therefore shortens them, so the “tension-to-length ratio” is not optimal, and stretching could remedy this.
  • Poor posture, which in the long term could cause joint or muscle damage (injuries), would come from muscle imbalance (muscles too tight or too relaxed; often a muscle that is too tight would have its too loose antagonist, as the common example says of overworked pecs unlike the back of shoulders and middle and lower trapezoids left to abandon, which would give shoulders rounded forward). The relaxations should address this problem.
  • In certain sports disciplines such as gymnastics, dance, athletics (sprint, long jump, etc.), dynamic stretching constitutes a suitable warm-up since it is important to have great flexibility to perform the requested performance.

Note: it is not too much to remember that every muscle or muscle group that is worked must be part of a program in which its antagonist is also worked, in order not to create any imbalance. Many people focus on the bench press and the military press but neglect the back exercises (especially its thickness) which could be worked on thanks to the different types of rowings (bar, unilateral, machine, low pulley …) and inverted flys (inverted pec deck, high or low pulley bird, leaning bust elevations etc).

The limit of stretching

  • A stretch performed before training may increase the risk of injury, as it will dramatically increase the possibility of range of motion . It is good to loosen a muscle that is permanently too stiff, but when loosening a worked muscle will increase in length momentarily before returning to normal tension after a few hours. These few hours therefore do not allow a bodybuilding session, which by the permitted amplitude, which is too large, could severely cause muscle and joint damage (tears, tendonitis, etc.) .
  • Since nerve control is reduced by stretching, trying to relax at this time can decrease performance during the session .
  • Stretching performed after a weight training session increases the number of injuries to the muscles, which can delay recovery. We recommend to athletes decanoat The more intensive the session (heavy work, in a force cycle), the more the muscles will be damaged, the less stretching will have to be done. Beyond the difficulty of the muscles to recover, it can even cause injuries (of the tear type: elongation, strain or tendon rupture).
  • Stretching increases the elasticity of the muscles (thus the ability to stretch them) and reduces the nerve signal that controls the pain associated with stretching, which makes it possible to stretch more without pain, but this only ad hoc : the elasticity of the muscles returns to normal a few hours after stretching. Static stretching does not lengthen muscles .
  • In truth, no study has been able to establish the link between muscle imbalance and posture, nor between “bad” posture and risk of injury, nor between stretching and modification of posture.
  • In the end, exercising alone can do this exercise well : if you can’t do a full range squat, then squat more.

Devote a session to relaxations

If you are in the case where you need to relax certain muscles for a particular discipline (large gaps for dancing for example), it is more judicious to devote a particular session to stretching than to practice them after a session of sport.

You still have to organize your session so as not to risk causing injury.

Whether it is a weight training session or a flexibility session, I send you to the next two points of this article which describe the progress of the warm-up, then the recovery at the end of the session.

A well-conducted warm-up increases the general and local body temperature (depending on the muscle group (s) involved). It improves performance and decreases the risk of injury. It is essential not to train cold if you want to have positive results without hurting yourself.

Cardio-vascular warm-up

It is not uncommon to see people warming up for several minutes on a cardio machine such as a bicycle, treadmill or elliptical. This increases the body temperature, and it is essentially this parameter that will increase muscle viscosity and muscle elasticity, therefore more resistance to changes in muscle length induced by exercise, which will lead to a better production of force and speed. Raising the temperature also allows a more efficient breakdown of glycogen (therefore more fuel for the muscles), allows the speed of nerve conduction to be increased, allows easier release of oxygen in muscle tissue, allows better oxygenation of the muscles. lungs, and finally a higher baseline level of oxygen uptake which decreases the risk of hypoxia during anaerobic exercise (such as weight training). Raising body temperature is the only real benefit of warming up.

Joint heating

We also see people performing rotational movements which consist of moving their joints (rotations of the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles, flexions and extensions of the neck, hips, etc.), which helps irrigation of the joints (especially tendons) to reduce the risk of injury. But if a good body temperature rise has been done, it may seem like a waste of time.

Muscle warm-up

Locally warming up the muscles that will be worked during the session does not seem to provide any benefit in terms of injury prevention, but is effective for performance if you want to gain strength. In the case of a session devoted to the pectorals, you will need to warm up the pectorals, the triceps, but also the biceps, the deltoids and finally the rotator cuff (which have a role of stabilizing the shoulder joint) . This warm-up is done by series of long repetitions (15 to 20) in light weight so as not to tire the muscles. For example, here is how you can warm up your muscles before a pectoral session (after joint mobilization exercises of the neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists): a series of bicep curls with a disc, a series of extension of the triceps with the same disc, side elevations, a series of pulley l-flies then a series of ground pumps.

Dynamic stretching

These stretches are only to be expected in two cases: before a session dedicated to flexibility or before a plyometric type session or a discipline such as dancing, running … In these cases, the muscle warm-up described in the previous paragraph is not useful. Exercises such as knee lifts, heel-buttocks, rear lunges with kick-up lift etc. are dynamic stretches.

Static stretching

You will understand, this type of stretching should be completely avoided before any workout.

By 15 to 20 minutes of cardio

After classic strength training (especially in research of hypertrophy) the body accumulates lactate, waste produced by the use of glucose to provide energy to the muscles. It is important to drink plenty of water during and around training to help the body get rid of it. A cardio session such as cycling or brisk walking on the treadmill can help eliminate it, although it is absolutely not essential.

By joint decompressions *

Unlike joint mobilizations, joint decompressions allow the body to relax, feel more relaxed and improve recovery. For example, you can lean on a bench with your left arm while you slowly rotate your right arm into space (right shoulder joint decompression).

By self-massages *

This practice is not yet very popular in France. The most used tool for self-massage and the foam roller. They help relax muscles although their usefulness in recovery is not proven; would destroy the “knots” (trigger points) which can quickly cause injuries by weakening the muscle (triggering pain that can make you think of tendonitis, especially in the shoulders, or can cause muscle tears). Do self-massage only if you like to do it, because it is a waste of time if what you want is to optimize recovery.

By static stretching (active or passive) *

I am talking about gentle stretching of the muscles worked to regain the original length of the muscle , and not a work of relaxation aimed at gaining flexibility. On the other hand, any stretching, even gentle, should be avoided in power take-off.

It is possible to soften the legs at the end of a weight training session where the upper body has been worked (provided that you do not have muscle stiffness and have warmed up thanks to joint mobilizations and dynamic stretching).

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