Strength and conditioning trainers are constantly looking for the best ways to improve sport performance. The specific techniques used to train sport specific strength, speed and agility are of great importance but I believe warm-up for the match or training session is just as important as the actual training or the game. A good warm-up will enhance physical performance and obviously a bad warm-up will have the opposite effect.
For a long time it was considered beneficial to do a light jog for warm up followed by a series of static stretches. Static stretching involves stretching a particular muscle to a certain tension and then holding the stretch for 10 or so seconds. Some research has shown though that static stretching on its own can be detrimental to performance and it does not prevent injury. This is not to say that you should not include static stretching into your warm up. You should along with sports specific activity and dynamic stretching. All of these things are important.
The more recent approach used by most of the world elite athletes is a more active warm-up of sports specific movements along with a series of dynamic and some static stretches. This provides the athlete with a more active preparation for their sports match, event or training.
Dynamic stretching has been used by track and field athletes for years, and is only recently been incorporated more in other sports such as cricket, tennis, football, rugby and baseball.
A good warm-up starts with some light activity until the athlete breaks into a sweat. This raises the body’s core temperature enough to enhance the elasticity of muscles, tendons, ligaments and overall joint structures to get the athlete ready for the training or game ahead. I like to do some jogging and then skipping usually. Some days when I am doing agility sessions or before matches I like to incorporate some agility drills through a speed and agility ladder. I find this one great for before games because I feel more mentally prepared for what lies ahead.
After the body is nice and warm it is time to get into the dynamic part of the warm-up which involves specific movements like leg swings, walking lunges, high knees, wall drills, but kicks. There are several different exercises that you can do to warm-up and depending on the sport or activity you are preparing for these can vary. The way you should conduct these moving stretches are by setting up two cones about 20 meters apart and do each stretch out to the cone that is 20 meters away and then jog back. I usually complete 1-2 sets of each stretch. After this some static stretches may be used to loosen certain muscles depending on the activity you are preparing for. The whole warm up should take around 15 minutes.
After the training or game it is important that we don’t just go and sit down straight away. This is when we need to do a cool down. During an intense session or game your body goes through a number of stressful processes. Muscle fibers, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body. A good cool down routine will assist your body in its repair process. This is very important in preventing muscle soreness that usually hits you the next day and often a couple of days after training. The cool down routine will depend on the type of training you have just done so if you did a lot of running it may involve a light jog for 5 min followed by some foam rolling to improve blood flow and decrease tissue density. Nutrition and re hydration is also important and should be incorporated into the cool down.