It’s winter and a chilly 10 degrees and you’re about to step out onto the field. Have you warmed up properly??
A warm up is commonly practised before sports participation. The purpose of a warm up is to help prepare your body for exercise, reduce injury and enhance performance. A warm up should aim to raise the body temperature and prepare you physiologically and psychologically to safely perform your chosen sport or activity effectively. The optimum duration of the warm up period should be between 10 and 15 minutes. The warm up should consist of a gradual increase in intensity, allowing an increase in your heart rate & body temperature and increased blood flow to the muscles to be used during the activity. This increase in blood flow, heart rate and body temperature during the warm up improves the elasticity of both muscles and joints, alerts neural pathways and stimulates muscles in preparation for performance.
Stretching can be defined as the elongation of muscle fibers through various techniques to increase joint range of motion. But what do we mean when we talk about different types of stretching such as static vs dynamic stretching?
Static stretching is a type of stretch whereby a person stretches the muscle until a gentle tension is felt and then typically holds the stretch for 20-30 seconds without any movement or bouncing.
Dynamic stretching is a stretch through movement that is performed slow & controlled through full range of motion. It typically involves aerobic exercise of low intensity concentrating on engaging the muscle groups that are to be used in the sport/activity. Butt kicks are an example of a dynamic stretch as the movement stretches and momentarily lengthens the quadricep, hamstring and calf muscle groups throughout the activity.
A sport specific warm up involves going through the movements and actions that are involved in the activity. This can include dynamic drills such as high knees, butt kickers, leg swings front and side, high kicks, walking lunges, airplanes, squats, skipping and tuck jumps. It’s important to gradually increase the intensity of your activity, waiting until you are well warmed up before introducing your higher intensity efforts. If you are about to play tennis then warm up by hitting a ball, mimicking a serve and hitting some forehand and backhand shots. If you’re preparing to play AFL practice kicking, handballing, bumping and tackling. You need to get your body, muscles and brain prepared and ready for what it’s about to do.
Over the years there has been a lot of research looking at the types of warm ups and stretches and their effectiveness on performance and injury prevention. Studies have established that a single bout of static stretching can reduce muscle strength in the short term. A warm up composed of a submaximal intensity aerobic activity followed by dynamic stretching and sports specific activities can enhance performance (1). A study comparing static and dynamic stretching during a warm up on vertical jump performance in tennis players found that the dynamic stretching group had significantly improved their jump performance over the static group (2).
Research has shown that static stretches do not address the changes in the sought after nervous and cardiovascular systems or the brain/body connection that are critical to optimal performance. Stretches held for longer than 60 seconds could be detrimental to performance by impairing maximal strength, power and muscular explosive (3&4).
- Allow yourself time to have a 10-15 minute warm up before competition/exercise. Include a combination of dynamic stretches with sports specific drills to warm and prepare your body and brain for the demands of the sport
- Static stretching for greater than 45 seconds should be avoided immediately before participation in activities where strength or power are important, as performance is likely to be reduced.
- Spend time static stretching after your activity to reduce muscle soreness and maintain flexibility.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your warm up and how to prepare for your activity, please contact one of our other physiotherapists at The Melbourne Sports Medicine Centre. Remember prevention is better than cure!