The Warm Up
Why Warm Up?
A good warm up prior to any physical activity does a number of beneficial things, but primarily its main purpose is to prepare the body and mind for more strenuous activity. One of the ways it achieves this is by helping to increase the body's core temperature, while also increasing the body's muscle temperature. By increasing muscle temperature you're helping to make the muscles loose, supple and pliable.
Effectively warming up also has the effect of increasing both your heart rate and your respiratory rate. This increases blood flow, which in turn increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. All this helps to prepare the muscles, tendons and joints for more strenuous activity.
Keeping in mind the aims or goals of an effective warm up, we can then go on to look at how the warm up should be structured.
How to Structure Your Warm Up?
Obviously, it's important to start with the easiest and most gentle activity first, building upon each part with more energetic activities, until the body is at a physical and mental peak. This is the state in which the body is most prepared for the physical activity to come, and where the likelihood of sports injury has been minimized as much as possible. So, how should your time of warming up be structured to achieve these goals?
There are four key elements, or parts, which should be included to ensure that you are effectively and completely warming up. They are:
The general warm up; static stretching; the sport specific prep; and dynamic stretching.
All four parts are equally important and any one part should not be neglected or thought of as not necessary. All four elements work together to bring the body and mind to a physical peak, ensuring the athlete is prepared for the activity to come. This process will help ensure the athlete has a minimal risk of sports injury.
Lets have a look at each element individually.
1.) General warm up
This should consist of a light physical activity, like walking, jogging, easy swimming, stationary bike, skipping or easy aerobics. Both the intensity and duration of this element (or how hard and how long), should be governed by the fitness level of the participating athlete. Although a correct general warm up for the average person should take about five to ten minutes and result in a light sweat.
The aim of the general warm up is simply to elevate the heart rate and respiratory rate. This in turn increases the blood flow and helps with the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles. This also helps to increase the muscle temperature, allowing for a more effective static stretch. Which bring us to part two.
2.) Static stretching
Static stretching is a very safe and effective form of basic stretching. There is a limited threat of injury and it is extremely beneficial for overall flexibility. During this part of warming up, static stretching should include all the major muscle groups, and this entire part should last for about five to ten minutes.
Static stretching is performed by placing the body into a position whereby the muscle, or group of muscles to be stretched is under tension. Both the opposing muscle group (the muscles behind or in front of the stretched muscle), and the muscles to be stretched are relaxed. Then slowly and cautiously the body is moved to increase the tension of the muscle, or group of muscles to be stretched. At this point the position is held or maintained to allow the muscles and tendons to lengthen.
This second part of warming up is extremely important, as it helps to lengthen both the muscles and tendons which in turn allows your limbs a greater range of movement. This is very important in the prevention of muscle and tendon injuries.
The above two elements form the basis, or foundation for a complete and effective warm up. It is extremely important that these two elements be completed properly before moving onto the next two elements. The proper completion of elements one and two, will now allow for the more specific and vigorous activities necessary for elements three and four.
3.) Sport specific warm up
With the first two parts carried out thoroughly and correctly, it is now safe to move onto the third part of warming up. In this part, the athlete is specifically preparing their body for the demands of their particular sport. During this part, more vigorous activity should be employed. Activities should reflect the type of movements and actions which will be required during the sporting event.
4.) Dynamic stretching
Finally, warming up should finish with a series of dynamic stretches. However, this form of stretching carries with it a high risk of injury if used incorrectly. It should really only be used under the supervision of a professional sports coach or trainer. Dynamic stretching is more for muscular conditioning than flexibility and is really only suited for professional, well trained, highly conditioned athletes. Dynamic stretching should only be used after a high level of general flexibility has been established.
Dynamic stretching involves a controlled, soft bounce or swinging motion to force a particular body part past its usual range of movement. The force of the bounce or swing is gradually increased but should never become radical or uncontrolled.
During the dynamic stretching, it is also important to keep the stretches specific to the athletes particular sport. This is the final part of effectively warming up and should result in the athlete reaching a physical and mental peak. At this point the athlete is most prepared for the rigors of their sport or activity.
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance and getting rid of those annoying sports injuries. Don't make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won't be effective.
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How long to Warm Up?
The above information forms the basis of a complete and effective warm up. However, I am well aware that this entire process is somewhat of an 'ideal' in regards to warming up. I am also well aware that this is not always possible, or convenient in the real world. Therefore, the individual athlete must become responsible for assessing their own goals and adjusting the above accordingly.
For instance, the time you commit to warming up should be relative to your level of involvement in your particular sport. So, for people just looking to increase their general level of health and fitness, a minimum of five to ten minutes would be enough. However, if you are involved in high level competitive sport you need to dedicate adequate time and effort to a complete warm up.
Article by Brad Walker. Brad is a leading stretching and
sports injury consultant with nearly 20 years experience
in the health and fitness industry. For more articles on
stretching, flexibility and sports injury, please visit
The Stretching Institute
Injury Prevention from Warm Up.