It was just after sunrise at Ridgefield High School, long before students arrived for class. Yet even at this early hour, there was already a crowd of about 10 people at the high school's track.
"OK everyone, it's time for our dynamic warmups," announced Ridgefield resident Mike Rodgers, a tall, slim muscular man who is leading the group. The group had just finished jogging a mile around the track.
"Let's do a forward lunge with an arm raise," Rodgers said. In unison, everyone in the circle performed the exercise. After about 10 repetitions, Rodgers directed the group in more exercises, many with catchy names such as "opening the barn door"-- which involves bringing the knee up to a 90-degree angle -- and "Frankensteins"-- which entails walking while raising the legs up to the hands.
"Each exercise is designed to work a different part of the body that we`ll be using in the main workout," explained Rodgers, 55, who has been running since high school and has completed over three dozen marathons and triathlons. He has been leading the early morning workout sessions at the track for four years.
According to Dr. Paul Moyse, a certified chiropractic sports physician with a practice in Monroe, properly warming up and cooling down is essential when engaging in any kind of sport. Warming up should involve dynamic stretching, which is a form of stretching when a person moves from one pose to another. "This continuous movement helps warm up muscles prior to physical activity. It loosens the muscles, improves range of motion and increases circulation while preventing injury," said Moyse, 60, who has been in practice for 28 years.
Cool downs are also crucial, Moyse said. He has completed 34 marathons and was a medical volunteer at the finish line of the New York City marathon. After a long run, he said, most runners want to immediately sit down, or at least stop moving, because they're so tired. But they need to fight that impulse. "We try to keep the runners moving to prevent the blood from pooling into their legs, which can cause them to get lightheaded, cramp, or pass out," Moyse said.
He said whenever he comes home from a long run, instead of sitting or lying down, "I do yard work. It helps me recover quicker."
After Rodgers' group finished their warm-up routine, they began their main workout and then ended with a cool down, which consisted of a slow jog, along with backward jogging and other movements, such as bear crawls and stepping through imaginary tires.
"For the cool down, we're trying to cool the muscles and slowly bring the blood back into the core," said Rodgers, who is an executive vice president at Finacity Corporation in Stamford and is also an emergency medical responder.
Developing good exercise habits should not be limited to adults. It should begin in youth, explained Newtown resident Ed Lucas, assistant varsity boys' basketball coach at Pomperaug High School in Southbury.
Every day before practice, Lucas has the boys run 10 laps around the court. Then they do 15 to 20 minutes of active warm-up exercises, which include lunges, leg raises, and exercises that strengthen the hamstrings and gluteal muscles.
"All these stretches warm up the muscles the boys will use when they play," said Luces, 43, of Newtown, who is also head boys cross country and track coach at Oxford High School. "They increase flexibility and improve performance. They also help prevent pulled and strained muscles -- which can lead to a tear.
"These kids have been sitting all day in class and their body stiffens up. This also happens when the boys are sitting on a bus for up to 1 ½ hours, traveling to games," he said.
When it comes to preventing injuries, Lucas stressed the importance of alternating sports. "A lot of kids these days are sports specific," he said. "Even when it's off season, they play their sport in other places, such as church leagues. My advice is to rotate sports. This will help develop the whole body, so they aren't using the same muscle groups all the time. If your main sport is basketball, then in the off season, switch to baseball, track, volleyball, or even bicycle riding."
Rodgers said he learned the hard way about the importance of following good exercise habits. "For decades, right before I would go for a run, I would simply lace up my running shoes and walk out the door," he said. "And as soon as I was done, I would hit the shower. I was running 70 miles a week this way, and I experienced a wide range of injuries--many of which were debilitating.
"Over the last 15 years, I've been focused on preventative," he said. "I now get so much joy out of seeing other people taking proper measures to stay healthy in their sport."
Sandra Diamond Fox is a freelance writer and can be reached at Sandraifox@aol.com.