Warming up… do I have to?
We’ve all heard we’re supposed to warm up before playing a sport. No one exemplifies this better than professional athletes.
Their routine is designed to keep them injury free and performing to the best of their abilities. As you’re reading this, you may be wondering if your warm-up is adequate. The reality is, when you’re younger and not working too hard, you can get away with minimal warm-up. As we get older it becomes more and more important to get the blood flowing and your muscles ready for the demands you’ll place on them.
Throwing is an excellent example because it’s common and can easily lead to injury if we start cold. When we throw a ball, our muscles create the force and the tendon transmits this force to the bone. Often when an injury occurs it happens at the connection between the muscle and the tendon. This happens easily when we try to throw something as far as possible on our first try, which men tend to be guilty of more often than women.
Getting the muscles firing before you start throwing hard actually increases the force you can put through them. Although there’s still some discussion about exactly how this works, the important part is that if you warm up, you can throw harder before anything tears. Aside from being less likely to hurt yourself, warming up also has the potential for improving performance. Generally speaking, you can expect to run faster, jump higher, or throw harder after you’ve warmed up. That’s the important thing to remember if you are younger!
As we get older, the quality of the tendon isn’t quite what it used to be. It’s usually stiffer, and not able to handle as much force, and there’s the chance that it has a few battle scars from the past. Warming up reduces the effect all of these changes have on performance, injury risk, and pain.
Preparing your body doesn’t need to be very complicated. In fact, you likely already have a very good idea about the things you should be doing.
Here are a few tips on things that do and don’t work:
Start off with some gentle cardio to get your heart rate up, the blood flowing, and your body moving.
Target the muscle groups you plan on using by picking a movement you’ll be doing. Slowly increase the speed and force of that movement.
For those of you doing more running than throwing, the best warm ups include plyometrics (jumping) and quick changes in direction. Check out the FIFA 11+ document online for great ideas on how you can do this.
What we call static stretching, where you hold a position for 20-30 seconds, is not overly effective. It doesn’t reliably prevent injuries nor does it seem to help with performance.
Putting a heating pad on your muscles is not a short cut to warming up – scientists have tried this.
– Christian de Milleville is a physiotherapist and co-founder of PhysioFITT, a company specializing in home physiotherapy appointments, serving Cranbrook and Kimberley