December 04, 2011

How to Prepare Your Muscles for Cold-Weather Workouts

When it's cold outside, our muscles tighten and our aches and pains hurt even more. In this weather, we literally need to warm up before we work out. But how?

The key to a successful workout include a proper warm-up routine, a steady transition from warm up to activity, and a balanced body at all times. Click for some awesome tips!
Avoid Static Stretching
Traditional or static stretching often puts excess pressure on muscles. It also lengthens muscles before they are properly warmed up, which may tighten or damage them and potentially lead to injury.
Think about your body as if it were a car: Especially in colder weather, you need to let the engine warm up and wait for the windows to gradually defrost before you can drive the car. The same goes for warming up your muscles on a cold day -- or any day. It's best to slowly prepare your muscles for the activity ahead.
Traditional stretching should only be done after working out, when your muscles are already warmed up. At this point, it can help increase flexibility.

Wake Those Muscles Up

Instead of traditional stretching, try isometric exercises. Isometric exercises keep the muscles in a shortened or contracted position to avoid unnecessary strain on the body. This also happens to be the weakest position for muscles, so activating the muscle at this point helps strengthen it for all other positions. Isometric exercises can also decrease the chance of injury and help you get the most out of your workout.
Try these simple exercises:
Triceps (upper arm):
  • Lay straight back on an exercise or yoga mat. Keep your hands at your sides.
  • On one side, bend your elbow in a 90-degree angle. Your hand should be open in the air.
  • Lightly push your tricep into the mat. Hold this position for four to six seconds.
  • Relax your body.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Complete six sets.
Quadriceps (upper leg):
  • Lay straight back on an exercise or yoga mat. Keep your hands at your sides.
  • On one side, lift your leg up about 45 degrees or as far as feels comfortable to you. Hold this position for four to six seconds.
  • Slowly release the position, and relax your body.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Complete six sets.
Trunk/core (center of body):
  • Sit in a chair with a straight back. Fold your arms across your chest.
  • Without moving your hips, slowly rotate the center of your body to one side. Hold this position for four to six seconds.
  • Slowly release the position, and relax your body.
  • Repeat on the other side.
  • Complete six sets.
While doing these exercises, if one side of your body feels stronger than the other, do a couple more reps on the weaker side to increase stability.
At first, it may seem like you are not doing much with these exercises, but by limiting your movement and the amount of pressure placed on your muscles, you can effectively warm them up and save the bulk of your energy for your workout.

Gentle Does It

You can also warm up their muscles by doing gentle, low-impact versions of the activity you are about to do. This gets your blood flowing and muscles prepped without unnecessary strain. For instance, before playing a game of football, gently throw the football around to warm up your shoulder. Before running, walk for five to 10 minutes. Before lifting weights, choose a significantly lighter weight and do a few reps.
Remember to keep all movements steady and controlled. If you use proper form from the beginning, it will help you continue these movements during the sport of your choice. It will also help you withstand the stress of a workout.

Balancing Act

Have you ever tried lifting something and used your back instead of your legs? This is a case where one muscle is compensating for another muscle. It could be that your back muscles are stronger than the ones in your legs, or perhaps one or more of your leg muscles aren't working properly. There are many cases where we do not use the proper muscle while working out and in everyday life. As a result, the compensating muscles are often the ones that become tight or strained.
While working out, it's important to do every exercise on both sides of the body. If a muscle is cold or unbalanced, the potential for an injury increases.
It's easier to use both sides of the body while working out, but harder to do while playing sports or other physical activities. To keep your body in balance, try using the less dominant side of your body when you're warming up. For example, before playing basketball, take some time to dribble the ball with your non-dominant hand. This will help balance you both physically and neurologically.

Customized Treatment

What many people don't realize is that common muscles, such as the tricep and quadricep, are made up of several muscles. Sometimes, especially in cold weather, one of these muscles may not be working properly. Simple isometric exercises may be hard to do. In these cases, you may want to see a muscle specialist and receive more precise, customized treatment for that muscle. Further treatment may include range of motion and muscle tests, tailored exercises, or palpations, where a specialist would help massage, activate and balance the muscle to restore and potentially improve it.
Remember: Your warm up should be slow, steady and balanced. By prepping your body correctly from the beginning, it will be ready for whatever comes next.

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