The right kind of warm-up and stretching can give you an edge in sporting performance. Research and experience shows that flexibility and warming up are essential components of all sporting performance and fitness programs. They offer the added benefit of injury prevention, performance optimisation and enhanced recovery time. This is also the case for those of us with only “improved” performance in mind.
A general warm-up uses a wide variety of actions to prepare the body as a whole for exercise, to increase muscle temperature and to stimulate the right pre-exercise mood. A specific warm-up relies on the actual exercises of the training session, performed easily with lighter loads. This provides a highly particular warm-up and neuromuscular preparatory phase; it is a case of moving through functional full ranges of movement where you are mobilising across a joint rather than ‘stretching’ muscle.
There is the confusion about how warm-ups and stretching benefit the athlete. Many are of the opinion that if they do some stretching prior to an activity, they have also warmed up – not true. They are two different activities and provide very different benefits.
Warming up is just what the name implies: doing an exercise that helps to elevate your body’s core temperature. An effective warm-up routine need not be complicated – the simpler the better. Warming up activates the enzymes the body’s energy system depends on to function properly; it delivers more oxygen to the working muscles and enhances the entire cardiovascular system allowing it to work more expeditiously. All in all worth a few minutes of your time I should think.
Static stretching is ideally focused on when you finish your activity or exercise. Static stretching is done gently, never forced. There is much debate as to the length of time to hold a stretch; I recommend 30seconds to 1minute. The research suggests that a very lengthy hold does not really result in any more stretch. I like to stretch and concentrate on my breathing and letting the stretching muscle relax as I exhale. Stretching should not be painful; it should be soothing. If any of your stretches hurt, you are doing it wrong and need to change your approach to the discipline.
Obtaining a fuller range of motion by warming up and stretching appropriately will aid you in having a more productive work out, reduce the risk of injury to your muscles and joints, and facilitate recovery. Both warming up and stretching are free – all you have to do in supply the time and energy.
Su Bauman (Physiotherapist)