It’d be wise to warm up to stretching: Staying In The game

Stretching confuses many athletes. They want to know whether it is really necessary, and whether it will prevent injuries.

If it is necessary, when should you do it? Do you do it before, during or after your activities?

Experts have been all over the map on this issue. I remember when it was recommended that you do a deep and hard stretch before your workout. This advice led to many injuries from overstretching cold muscles and tendons.

Studies now show that it is best to begin your workout with a light warm-up. This warm-up will get blood flowing to the muscles that you will be exercising.

If you are a runner, it is best to start at 50 percent of your normal speed and then gradually increase speed. You will know you are warm when your body starts to perspire.

This is good advice for other sports as well. If you are hitting the slopes, start with a few cruising runs before you head for the moguls. Hit some tennis balls from the service line to get your legs and arms loose.

I have always had issues with stretching. I tried the hard-stretch routines before workouts, and they never appeared to prevent injuries. Those routines may have even caused a few, especially to my Achilles tendon.

I now do a very light and short stretch before any sports. I spend more time warming up, trying to get the heart rate and blood flow going before I exercise. I do a deep stretch at the end of my workout.

Sometimes I need to be reminded to slow down when I start out for a run. A former running partner who was an excellent middle-distance runner would frequently remind me to start a little slower.

As I warmed up and the sweat would start, then our pace would pick up. Usually, her pace would be faster, and I only would see her tail lights for the rest of the run.

A great warm-up, if you are going to the gym to train, is to start with a yoga routine of sun salutation. This is a series of gentle movements that wakes up your spine, legs and shoulders.

This past weekend, I showed a friend these exercises to do before golfing. He was complaining he was losing flexibility and not hitting the ball very far.

I also travel with a set of elastic bands that I recommend to patients. They are great to warm up your entire body. You can also substitute them for dumbbells.

I showed Leo how to use the straps, and he was amazed at the total body workout you get from them. This warm-up only takes a few minutes to get the heart rate up and the blood flowing to the major muscles.

Many of the old-school exercises also can get you ready to exercise. This includes jumping jacks and running in place, lifting your knees to your waist. Throw in a set of pushups for good measure.

Another exercise people forget about is jumping rope. If it is good enough for boxers, it should be good enough for you.

Listen to your body. If the exercise causes any symptoms to increase, modify or stop your program and see a health care professional.

If you are consistent with your exercise program, you will see amazing results in a short time. Your health and energy level will increase and your weight decrease.