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Stretching the Truth

Stretching the Truth

Fitness traditionalists, old school gym class teachers and every morning workout show that hit the airwaves over the past few decades have pounded it into the public’s heads that exercise should begin with stretching.  Recently however, almost every study is proving that old belief system wrong and the more cutting edge fitness programs are beginning with more sport-specific movements and warming up the muscles that will be most used during that activity.

Whether you’re stretching and holding instead of bouncing or not doesn’t matter.  Stretching cold muscles is the equivalent to taking a rubber band out of the freezer and immediately beginning to pull it.  What happens?  You see slight tears begin to happen in the band and then, as more pressure is applied, the rubber band snaps.  Muscles are very similar in structure to these elastic bands so a better preparation is to warm these muscles up before putting pressure on them and forcing them perform.

Strangely enough, it seems that boxers have always understood that principle.  That’s why they have always shadowboxed at the beginning of their workouts.   They have traditionally mimicked the exact movement they would be performing on the bags and in the ring before making their bodies respond. Every fighter worth a penny to punch starts his workout by shadowboxing and always has.

Another alternative or complimentary pre-exercise warm-up is full range of motion movements, or FRM. These are movements that involve using the same sets of muscles you would use when you get in the ring, throw punches, avoid getting hit and move around the gym.

One approach to achieving this is to take a set of dumbbells and run through a series of single and multi-joint exercises.  Lie in the ring and slowly, but consistently, perform a standard weight-lifting routine using only light weight.  Perform 20-30 repetitions of a chest press.  Then stand up, bend horizontally at the waist and do the same number of repetitions of a classic bent row.  From there, stand up and move right into a set of behind-the-head triceps extensions, followed by traditional bicep curls.  Finish the routine off with some overhead shoulder presses.  Then let the weights hang to your side and complete the entire series with some leg squats.  Even with that basic approach, in all, you’ve touched on nearly every muscle group without placing unnecessary stress on them and you’ve started the warm-up process.  Depending on how you feel and how your muscles have responded, you may want to go through the routine again at that same weight and rate, or increase the weight slightly, increase the intensity and get a better sweat going.  Then, move right into or back into another round of shadowboxing for another option.

A similar routine can be achieved with a lightweight medicine ball or a light resistance band…anything that will provide some slight resistance, while allowing for a full range of motion. The most important aspect is to get the muscles moving in a task that is similar to the activity that they will be called on to do through a full range of motion.

Stretching is not taboo.  It is a great way to end your workout, after intense exercise, once the muscles are completely and thoroughly warmed-up. Proper stretching can increase flexibility, relieve muscle soreness and help restore any range of motion that may have been lost through strength building exercises. It will help you be a more flexible, fluid and mobile athlete who will be able to last…just don’t put stretching first.

Doug Ward is the President and Trainer for the Underground Boxing Company.