FYI SOUTH Magazine, July 2006

Stretching your limits

--By Alice Wu Translated by Picker Chen

Many people out there know the benefits of exercise. It's common knowledge that aerobic activity increases metabolism and helps burn excess body fat. Walking, cycling and running are just three of the more common ways of aerobic exercise and can be done virtually anywhere: outdoors or in a gym.

However, what some people don't realize is that a person cannot simply rush into aerobic activity without first properly warming up. This includes light exercise and stretching before and after an intense work-out. During high levels of intensity, heart rates increase and more oxygen is needed to meet the energy needs of the body. If there is a lack of oxygen, the body switches to anaerobic metabolism, which supplies energy to your muscles without oxygen. The resulting by-product of this action is called lactic acid and a build-up of it in your muscles causes the burning, sore sensation people feel after an intense work-out.

The easiest way to reduce chances of lactic acid build-up is to stretch out your core muscles (those in the legs, arms, and abdominal area). And since you shouldn't stretch "cold" muscles, warming-up should be your first step. Start with a light walk on the spot, and make sure you move your arms. Change it up and do taps with your toes. This need only be done for 5-10 minutes. After the warm-up, the stretching begins. Since I can't describe the exercises properly in this short article, you should head over to http://www.netfit.co.uk/stretmen.htm to find helpful tips on proper warm-up and stretching techniques.

Most importantly after an intense work-out, you should always cool down. Never just stop. Heart rates need to be eased down and given a chance to return to normal. After a cool-down, take 15 to 20 seconds to stretch out each muscle. This will greatly reduce your chances of lactic acid build-up and thus prevent those next-day muscle pains from attacking.