Updated: Sep 7, 2019
With the autumn rapidly approaching and lots of people starting to train for various sporting events, or just making inroads into the gym after the summer 😎. I am reminded of a question we are frequently asked.
What's the best warm up for ............................... (insert your chosen activity here)
This is understandable as a question because what should be a simple process has to many of us become a minefield of conflicting and confusing advice. "Should I stretch or not", "how many times should I swing my arms", "can I just sit in a sauna, that gets me warm" Yes I have been asked that many times 🤔.
Now, I said this is simple and it is. The best warm up for your chosen activity, is quite simply to do that activity. But before I look at the finer points of this just allow me to put that statement in perspective 🤔:
If I want to go running then warming up by going swimming would not really be the best choice, because it uses completely different muscles and movement patterns to those of running. By the same token: If I want to play tennis why would I warm up by cycling to the courts? I wouldn't because I do no movements on the bike that recreate the stresses I am about to put on my body charging around the tennis court. Neither would I warm up for cycling by playing tennis. The only aspect of a warm up that is shared between these three examples is raising the heart rate.
So what it is we actually want to achieve from a warm up? Put simply we want to prepare our body for an increased level of activity (and that increased level of activity often creates stresses that lead to injury in the absence of any form of preparation). Taking Tennis as a working example, the risk of muscle tears 😖 (if the warm up is not effective) comes from lunging movements and sudden directional changes using muscles that, five mins earlier, had done nothing more than walk around throughout the day and possibly stroll onto the court. The same goes for shoulders, that may have experienced no greater movement than possibly clicking a mouse.
So what would an appropriate and effective warm up look like for tennis? Well, nothing more than a ten minute knock up! No points scored, no attempts to outplay your partner, just the pair of your feeding each other returns that encourage ever greater movement and a gradually increasing pace until you arrive at match level. Now you are warmed up and no nasty surprises to catch out your muscles 😃.
What about other activities?.... Well it's just the same: Football: Kick the ball around: harder faster further. Cycling: Ride the bike at gradually increasing pace. Running: Walk gradually faster until you reach a slow run, gradually build up to full pace, etc, etc, etc. You get the idea.
Now, how about that stretching question? Well let's also keep that simple, there are reports that Developmental Stretching (These are the long hold stretches, normally done after exercise to promote good recovery) within a warm up may lead to a degree of temporary laxity in the joint. Firstly, this kind of stretching is rarely seen in a warm up. What we are we are looking for are dynamic and active active stretches during a warm up. However, this is not the place to go into a full physiology of stretching lecture. So, what should we be doing stretch wise during a warm up? Well, everything you need is already in there if you are simply recreating the activities and movements of your sport at a gradually increasing level 😀. The muscles will be naturally experiencing an active stretch as you go through the movements of your sport.
If I am about to lift weights in the gym then I do my entire routine with an 'opening set' of all the intended exercises with very light, or no weights, just to introduce the intended range of motion (stretching) to the muscles.
Hopefully you are starting to see the pattern here and could apply this to any activity. And if our activity does not require us to swing our arms in circles then........let's not swing our arms in circles. 🤔
Here at The Reinge Clinic, many of the sports and exercise injuries we see are as a direct result of an ineffective (but usually well intentioned) warm up. Not just a single warm up, but the cumulative effect of months, weeks or even years. So, apart from fixing the injury, what else do we do? We encourage and help our clients to keep their warm ups, cool downs and training...............specific.
Happy Training 👍