Dear Mr. Fitness:

Before I begin to do my exercises, I do my stretching routine. Although it has happened before, lately I have been pulling muscles mostly in my legs.

I thought that I wasn't stretched out enough so I increased my routine and added more stretches.

It has gotten only worse. Now I'm cramping almost every day as well as getting these muscle strains.

I'm a 36-year-old female and I weight-train three times a week. But I haven't been able to because of these strains and I want to keep working out.

Please respond. Thanks.

-- Stretched

Dear Stretched:

If you've been stretching your muscles prior to doing your weight training, then I can understand why you are experiencing these strains.

Muscles don't do too well when they are cold. They can be as much as one-third "tighter" then when fully warmed. Muscles are sluggish, and when cold more prone to being injured. Your muscles need to be warmed up before you wail away at them with the weights!

I believe this is why you're getting the cramping and the pulls. When muscles are cold, they don't have much blood in them. I would advise you to get some blood in them by doing some warm-up activity like bicycling or treadmill walking or stair stepping. Perhaps do these activities for 10 or 15 minutes. Nonstop. That will suffice.

Now once warmed, go forward and do your stretches.

The other possibility would be to go and lift the weights, then hit the stretching afterward. Make certain you are doing plenty of light warm-up sets when lifting the weights. This entails doing the movement in a light, high-rep fashion to facilitate blood flow to the working muscle. Getting that blood to your working muscles is important to prevent injury (such as you describe) and make for a great workout.

Another possibility I'd look at is that, when you're doing your stretches, do them in a slow and deliberate manner. In other words, do you bounce when stretching? If you bounce the muscles after it is fully stretched, please don't! This bouncing can really lead to injuries like the ones you speak of. When doing stretching, try to hold the stretch for at least 30 to 45 seconds. This will provide the best opportunity to fully stretch your muscles and prevent the injuries.

Please try this method after you've rested your aches and pains and let me know how you're doing.

-- Mr. Fitness

Tony Wagner, aka Mr. Fitness, has more than 30 years of fitness and nutritional expertise. A certified personal trainer and author, he has helped thousands of people get into and stay in shape. Contact him at mrfitness1@aol.com, on Facebook or stop by Bodyzone Fitness Center, 2740 N. Roosevelt Blvd., 305-292-2930.