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Plus-Size Fitness Excerpt from Don't Weight
Do you remember playing with Silly Putty( when you were little? When you first took it out of the egg, if you pulled on it, it would snap or tear apart instead of stretching out. But, if you mashed it with your warm little hands for a while until the Silly Putty( got warm, then it would s-t-r-e-t-c-h out very smoothly.
I would like you to remember Silly Putty( when you think of stretching your muscles. Cold muscles will be more likely to tear when you stretch them. Once muscle cells tear, the muscle may heal with scar tissue. Scar tissue is less flexible than the original muscle tissue. So stretching cold muscles might actually reduce your flexibility instead of increasing it. Nice warm muscles, on the other hand, will stretch out smoothly and comfortably. You will get maximum flexibility improvement from stretching when your muscles are warm.
This means that you should NOT stretch at the very beginning of a warm-up. You should not hop out of your car at the track, stretch, and then begin walking. Instead, you should hop out of your car and walk at low intensity for a little while until your muscles are warm. Then you can enjoy stretching before you continue your walk. If your fitness instructor insists on putting a stretch at the very beginning of the class, before you have warmed-up, you should arrive at class with your muscles already warm. Your walk from the car will help if you park a few blocks away. Are there any easy gentle aerobic machines that you could use for a warm-up? Take care and warm-up before you stretch. Remember the Silly Putty( and protect your muscle cells from tearing. Protect yourself from cold stretches.
The goal of your warm-up is to increase your breathing, dilate your blood vessels, and to actually warm the muscle tissue. Sometimes I work with people who have great physical limitations and who cannot exercise enough to warm their muscles. For some people, even low intensity movements are difficult or cause pain. In these unique situations, we have had good experiences using water to warm the body before stretching. Either a warm bath or a warm shower works well (even if a shower chair is used for sitting in the shower.) This will dilate the blood vessels and warm muscle tissue to prepare for stretching. Often, after this warming and stretching, the person will be able to continue and do other exercises that are of great benefit. People with fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue, and other chronic pain conditions will find this technique very helpful.
After the muscles are warm, either from gentle low intensity movement, or from a water warm-up, or some combination of the two, now you are ready to stretch. These stretches after your warm-up and before your workout help to prevent injury from pulled muscles. That is good for you. Another good time to stretch is at the end of your workout when you have used your muscles for rhythmic work, aerobic activity, or muscle toning work of some kind. Your warm muscles will love the stretch after your cool-down. Individual muscle fibers will elongate. Circulation will improve. A wonderful benefit from this improved circulation is that your muscles will recover from exercise faster. Remember it is when you recover from exercise that your body goes through the physiological changes that increase your fitness. Therefore, you will get fit faster when you give your warm muscles a nice stretch at the end of your workout and cool-down. Good for you!
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