Playing weekend tennis? On a softball league? You're likely to join the walking wounded if you rush out without warming up properly. The routine adds a few minutes to your pre-game plan, but you'd be surprised how many injuries it prevents, says Allan Levy, co-author of Sports Injury Handbook: Professional Advice for the Amateur Athlete (John Wiley & Sons).
How to warm up? Before playing a sport or exercising intensively, do light calisthenics, take a brisk walk, jog lightly, or do any other easy exercise gradually. The goal is to raise the body's temperature by about 2 degrees, which happens when you break into a sweat, says Levy.
Recreational athletes tend to stretch first and then begin exercising. Wrong. Warm up first, then stretch. That's because cold muscles pull, says Dr. Gene Kastelberg, sports doctor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He recommends slowly stretching the neck, back, shoulders, arms and legs; holding each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds; and repeating each three times. Don't bounce, and don't overdo it: A stretch should never be painful.
After the game or workout, says Kastelberg, stretch again to prevent soreness and increase flexibility.