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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 05:50 am

Warm up, cool down

Get your blood pumping first, local experts say

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Tim Butler used to run in high school and college, but he says it’s nothing compared to what he’s been up to for the past 13 years. “If I ran two miles, it seemed like a long way,” Butler says. “Now I’ve run probably 20 half-marathons and even ran the Chicago Marathon once.”
As a member of the Springfield Road Runners Club and a leader of the “Half-wits,” a 200-runner-strong half-marathon training group, Butler has mastered the ins and outs of running and recognizes the importance of staying injury-free. Although stretching is integral to any workout, he says, runners, trainers, and physical therapists can’t agree whether knee-bends and toe-touches should come before or after exercise. Preactivity stretching can reduce the risk of injury and helps athletes get focused, but John Gee, a physical therapist with Sportscare of Illinois at Koke Mill Medical Center, says that a greater amount of research shows postactivity stretching to be more beneficial. He says that muscles are warmer after a workout, allowing them to relax and stretch more easily. Brigitte Cutler, a physical therapist with Springfield’s new Physiotherapy, agrees that “static” stretching before a workout is not always as helpful. She says that she promotes a newer form of stretching — called “dynamic” stretching — among athletes. Instead of doing exercises in place, they do walking lunges and other moving activities to get their blood pumping.
“The reason you do dynamic stretching opposed to static stretching is because you want to ready your muscle fibers for contracting fast,” Cutler says. “If you hold a static stretch you can pull a muscle, and, especially if you’re a runner, you lose some of your energy.”
Cutler recommends five minutes of dynamic stretching — more or less, depending on the caliber of the athlete and the intensity of the workout — but admits that many seasoned athletes out there avoid injuries without any stretching at all. Many of them, like Butler, incorporate such activities as yoga and Pilates into workouts to stretch their muscles and improve flexibility. Although the pros and cons of stretching may remain a matter of debate, athletes and trainers can always agree on the importance of warming up and cooling down after exercise. Gee says these are key factors in any workout because athletes’ bodies need time to adjust to changing conditions and heart rates. “A warm-up is very important from a cardiovascular and muscle physiology point of view,” he says, “and, equally, the cool-down is important as well so that there is a slowing without a sudden stop at the end of a training period.”
Gee says that warming up and cooling down have become so highly regarded that manufacturers of exercise machines now incorporate the options in their bicycles, treadmills, and elliptical runners.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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