How To Stay Active (& Injury-Free!) This Winter

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014_018_20d_RusAnsonPhotographed by Rus Anson.
From pulled muscles to sprained ankles, injuries are a fact of life. It’s happened to all of us — no matter how good our intentions might be or how disciplined we’ve been with getting up early, that virtuous workout regimen can be ruined with one very painful, false step. Luckily, we’ve got some tips to help keep your body in tip-top shape.

Don’t Stretch Beforehand
Ever since our elementary-school P.E. days, we’ve been told that a quick stretch before running keeps us from pulling hamstrings or tearing tendons. Turns out, that quad stretch we all do before hitting the pavement or treadmill does nothing to prevent injury — and may actually hinder performance. In a controlled study, injury rates were identical among runners who stretched before a workout versus those who didn’t. Even worse, stretching before physical activity can actually trick your muscles into thinking they will be over-exerted, causing them to tighten up in anticipation.

Don’t Skip The Warm-Up
Instead, doing a light warm-up that mimics the movement of your workout — from a short jog to lunges — heats up the body, increasing range of motion and blood flow, which helps guard against overextension and injury. Multiple studies show that a more active warm-up, rather than static pre-workout stretches, activates more muscle groups, and has a much greater impact on your flexibility. This is especially crucial during the colder months, when icy temperatures cause our muscles to be more tense and tight than usual.

Finish With A Stretch
After exercise, when your body temperature is elevated and your muscles and joints are loose, your body is at an ideal state for increasing flexibility and range of motion. A few easy stretches post-workout, like a forward bend, a heel drop, or a slow back twist, can help prevent stiffness and injury in the future.