START WITH A LITTLE AEROBIC EXERCISE. FOLLOW IT WITH SOME STRETCHING AND THEN SOME LIFTING WITH LIGHT WEIGHTS. DO THIS DAILY BEFORE YOU START TOSSING THE BIG WEIGHTS AROUND.
Most workout wonks agree that you need to do some warming up before you pump iron.
Here’s why. When you warm up, you pump blood into your muscles and elevate their temperature. This in turn makes them less susceptible to painful pulls and tears. Common sense indicates that if the muscle is warmed up, the body is better prepared to more effectively recruit the muscle for exercise, and there might be less chance of damaging the muscle.
THE STRETCHING TRUTH
We’re going to mention this first because a lot of guys were taught wrong. You may have been told to always stretch before a workout. Don’t. That is, don’t stretch first thing. Don’t stretch a muscle that isn’t already warmed up.
We do want you to stretch. But we want you to warm up the muscles first with some light aerobics. Then, your stretches should be specific to the muscles you’ll be working, and they should also be relatively brief. Brief doesn’t mean careless, though: You can cause injuries to the very muscles you’re trying to protect if you stretch too vigorously, too roughly, or too far.
We don’t want you pulling muscles, but a few minutes of stretching before and after pumping iron clearly promotes flexibility and prevents you from suffering what critics once carped would inevitably happen to those who lift weights: becoming muscle-bound.
Static stretching is safest. That means that you gently, slowly stretch a muscle through its full range of motion. Stretch to the point at which you feel resistance or tightness; hold and then ease off. Do not stretch to the point of pain.
Do each stretch once or twice, and hold the maximum position 10 seconds. In subsequent stretching sessions, you can gradually stretch farther, increasing your flexibility.
The easiest way to hurt yourself is to bounce while stretching. Bouncing causes a reflex contraction that can cause a muscle pull or tear. You can stretch the muscle longer if you do it slowly because you don’t kick in this reflex.
The best way to give your body an overall, general warmup before lifting is to do aerobic exercise. That doesn’t mean jumping around to loud music as if there’s cayenne pepper in your jock, unless you particularly like cayenne pepper and loud music. Treadmills and stationary bicycles give you a less frenetic aerobic workout. You can try other aerobics machines, too. Or do some light jogging and walking, and swing your arms a bit. How long do you need to do this aerobic stuff?
Whatever aerobic activity you choose, do it until you break into a sweat. For most guys, that’s about 5 to 7 minutes.
Here are two cool ways to warm up the muscles you’ll stress during your workout.
- Use weights. Do the very exercise you’re going to perform first, but with half the weight. Let’s say that you’re planning to do several repetitions of the bench press at 120 pounds. Start off by doing a few reps at 60 pounds. This allows you to stretch the muscles in a very specific way, and it warms you up quickly.
- Use your body. You also can put your own body weight to use as a warmup tool. Maybe you intend to start your workout with 10 bench-press repetitions. Don’t want to fuss with moving plates on and off the bar? Hit the floor. Do 30 pushups for a warmup, then bench-press with the full load.
The best warmup takes 10 minutes:
Do some aerobic exercise, stretch, and lift light weights working the specific muscle group that you’re going to exercise. Do the warmup routine in that order.
A warmup before lifting weights is especially critical if you’re planning to lift a heavy load and do few repetitions. The higher the weight and the fewer the number of repetitions, the more chance you have for injury if you’re not warmed up.
Like warming up before lifting, cooling down afterward is overlooked by a lot of men. Here’s why it’s important. Either during or immediately following weight training, there is a huge increase in blood flow to the muscles. That’s what gives you that pumped feeling and appearance.
The trouble is that now there is less blood and oxygen returning to the heart since so much of it is in the muscle. When you abruptly stop lifting or doing other exercise, the blood simply pools in the muscle. Your heart needs some of the oxygen that’s bound to the hemoglobin in your blood. If it doesn’t get that oxygen, you could have a heart attack. You could even die, and let’s face it, dying blows the whole workout.
It’s a pretty dire scenario but one that’s easy to avoid. When you finish a weight training workout, do some light aerobic exercise or a few reps with light weights. This will squeeze blood back into your blood vessels and toward your heart. For most men, a mere 5 minutes of this cooldown activity will do the job.
FOUR-WAY NECK TWIST AND TILT
Stand with your back straight and your legs shoulder-width apart. Your neck should be straight and your shoulders relaxed.
- Slowly turn your head to the right as far as it will comfortably go. Hold for 10 seconds. Then repeat, turning your head to the left. Return to the starting position.
- Without bending your upper body, tuck your chin into your chest until you feel a mild pull in the back of your neck. Hold for 10 seconds.
- Slowly tilt your head back until you are looking straight up, but not so far back that your head rests on your shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
OVERHEAD SHOULDER STRETCH
- Stand erect with your shoulders back, chest out, and feet about shoulder-width apart. Raise your right arm overhead, bend your elbow, and rest your right hand behind your neck, just between your shoulder blades. Keep your left hand at your side.
- Use your left hand to gently push on your right elbow, edging it toward the center of your body and farther down behind your neck. Switch arms and repeat.
Place your hands on both sides of a doorway at shoulder height. Keep your chest and head up and your knees slightly bent. Move your upper body forward until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold the position for 10 seconds, but do not hold your breath. Do once.
Sit on the floor with both legs extended.
- Bend your right leg over your left leg, keeping your right foot flat on the floor outside your left knee. Place your left elbow on the outside of your right knee, and extend your right arm behind you with your palm flat on the floor for support.
- Twist your upper body to the right by slowly looking over your right shoulder. Apply pressure with your left elbow on the outside of your right knee as you twist. Keep your upper body straight. Hold, then switch sides and repeat.
To do a butterfly stretch, sit on the floor with your legs bent frog-style, the soles of your feet pressed together. Gently press your knees toward the floor with your elbows or hands. Hold.
Sit on the edge of a bed or bench with your right leg extended on the bench and your left foot on the floor. Rest your right hand on your right knee, then slowly slide your fingers to your toes, reaching as far as is comfortable. Hold. Switch legs and repeat. (This position takes stress off your lower back, unlike similar exercises in which you sit on the floor.)
Stand touching a chair or wall for support. Bend your right knee and grab your right foot with your left hand, pulling your foot up so that your heel presses against your butt. Hold. Switch legs and repeat.
Stand slightly away from a wall and lean on it with your forearms, your head resting on your hands. Place your right foot in front of you, leg bent, your left leg straight behind you. Slowly move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the calf of your left leg. Keep your left heel flat and your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold an easy stretch for 10 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.