Cold muscles and cold temperatures

It's cold and stretching is the last thing your muscles feel like doing. We all know the merits of pre-stretching before exercise for injury prevention.

But how many of you relate that stretching to the difference in temperature?

As little as four degrees difference in outside or room temperature totally changes the structure of your pre-stretch program. It may mean the difference between a good stretch and pain.

Static stretches are those types of stretches that extend slowly and hold at the end of the movement. These stretches have their place in the beginning of an exercise program, and at the end for muscle relaxing and cool down.

Ballistic stretches are active, with bounce and bobbing movement. These stretches are usually done in the interior of your exercise program and can often be incorporated with the endurance portion of the program. Both types of stretching have their place in a well rounded fitness activity.

Taking this information a but further, you should interact the two types of stretches with the temperature you will be exercising in. When you take your body from a warm bed to a cold exercise room, or outside to jog in winter weather, you change the nature of the stretching required to prevent injury.

It is a subtle difference, and one most of us are not aware of. Instead of starting with static stretches on muscles that are cold and tight, do a little heel-toe movement and swing your arms around a bit for increased circulation.

With the temperature at 50 degrees, I often begin a class with one or two easy running sequences just to warm the legs and get the blood moving to all extremities. Then, with the muscles filled with blood and elongated, we will do slow static stretches and go back to a warm up exercise for arms, legs and ankles.

When the weather is warm, begin your exercise activity with static stretches. It's enjoyable and easy, then your warm-up run can safely be slipped back into second-place without the increased chance of muscle injury. Once you have warmed your muscles to the point of an easy stretch, maintaining them at that level during your exercise activity is important.

To continually cool and re-heat muscle tissue increases chance of injury. Each exercise performed should be a prerequisite for the next movement.

There are other factors that interact with temperature. Age is one of them. As you age, your muscles become shorter and require more stretching. And some people have naturally tighter muscle patterns, and some have uneven body structures to consider.

Two main points relate to all bodies however, don't do ballistic or bouncing stretches on cold muscles and when doing static stretching, consider the temperature of the surroundings. Remember as little as four degrees of temperature difference may change the requirements for your pre-exercise stretching.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.


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