Warming Up and Cooling Down

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Back to the earliest days, our gym instructor always had us start our bodybuilding training sessions by spending 5-10 minutes kneading, chopping and slapping our own hamstrings, adductors and quadriceps. Only then would we begin actual stretching exercises.

Little did we know at the time that real science was behind this slapfest! In fact, muscle is subject to the principle of thixotrophy - the tendency of gels to be thick and viscous at rest, but pliant and fluid when shaken or otherwise disturbed. Although the thixotrophic effect is not completely understood, scientists speculate that upon long periods of inactivity, muscle tissues begin to develop microscopic bonds - both between fibers and even between actin and myosin filaments.

This phenomenon explains why we so often feel stiff and creaky upon rising from sleep. It also suggests that pre-stretching "warm-up" activities are important not only because they raise the body temperature (which in itself facilitates muscle elongation), but also because they help to break up these bonds before actually stretching the muscles.

Of course, you may feel a bit self-conscious about slapping and hitting your legs before a stretching session - so, instead, plan your stretching immediately after resistance training. This takes advantage of thixotrophy, since your muscles will be warm and free of stiffness, and it also makes use of the fact that long-term improvements in ROM are best achieved if you stretch while you're cooling down.

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