It's wintertime, so feeling cold is inevitable. But your muscles don't have to be!
It's that time of year again, and I'm reminded of it as I trudge to work in the sleet that's making the roads and sidewalks slick. Maybe I'll skip my run today. I can't think of much I'd enjoy less than getting pelted in the face with semi-frozen water as I run down the sidewalk at a stilted, slower pace so I don't fall face-first into the concrete. It's days like these that make you feel cold to the core. But this kind of weather lasts for months, on and off, surprising us each time snow, sleet, or hail falls from the sky, ices the grass, and freezes our muscles. At some point, I'm going to have to face the weather eventually so I can cruise on into springtime at a pace faster than a labored jog.
Which means I have to find a way to get warm—and in more ways than one.
You should not, I repeat, SHOULD NOT run with cold muscles. Why? Quickest answer: soreness. Cold muscles are a one-way ticket to tight muscles following a workout. Charlie horses? No thanks. Stiff joints? I'll take a pass.
And I know what you're thinking: Oh, I'll just stretch really well before I go for my run! No. No, no, NO! Stretching cold muscles is almost worse than running on cold muscles. (Note: I don't actually have the science to prove this, but I do have the science to tell you why stretching cold muscles is bad. Read on!)
Just don't. Just like running on cold muscles, stretching cold muscles also causes pain. In fact, stretching a muscle that isn't properly warmed up is like pulling both ends of a rope with a knot in the middle. You're just making it tighter. That's right.
Imagine your calf is that lovely little heart-shaped knot. Now imagine pulling that rope nice and taught—yikes! Courtesy of pexels.com
Now this effect makes your body feel worse than it had before you stretched. Start your workout this way and you're just asking your body to perform in bad conditions, leading to a poor performance.
This is a static stretch for your quad. Save this one for post-workout stretching. Courtesy of pexels.com
But aren't you supposed to stretch before a workout? Yup. But save the static stretches (those are the ones where you stay in one place and stretch—think the common one where you stand on one leg, bend your knee, and hold that ankle behind you to stretch your quad) for after the workout. Pre-workout you should be doing what's called dynamic stretching. These are the stretches that come with little hops and bounces. They warm your muscles up, get the blood flowing, and get the kinks out for an optimal workout or race. If you need to see an example of dynamic stretching, click here. Examples of dynamic stretches start at 1:04.
I'm a huge fan of dynamic stretching. I've always felt that it helps my performance and launches me into a workout feeling strong and energized. I recommend you give it a try and see the difference for yourself.
Have any favorites? Share in the comments below!
The Run-Around is a weekly feature, focusing on fitness in and around Annapolis, MD.