Ensuring you have an appropriate warm up is essential to any successful program. Warm ups prior to exercise are important to prepare your circulatory system and muscles for exertion and reduce the chance of injury. Unfortunately, traditional stretching routines are ineffective. The most potent way to warm up for an athletic activity is by performing the same movements you will be doing with substantially less intensity.
If you’re going to take swings in the cage, take swings from both sides at 25%, then 50%, etc. If you’re getting ready to do heavy squats, perform the exercise with your body’s weight alone, then add plates to the bar incrementally until you are nice and toasty in your joints and muscles. If you’re going to sprint, walk first, then run, ramping up…you get it.
During my MLB career, our stretching sessions before batting practice were beyond archaic. We’d line up or make a circle and go through a progression of medieval “bend over and touch your toes” style static moves, one after the other. This isn’t to say the stretching had no benefit. The most efficient and effective part of this ritual was the camaraderie that was built as a result. Plenty of juicy stories were told in those 15 or 20 minutes. In terms of preparing us for the game to come, however, it wasn’t much help.
We’d follow this silly routine with throwing, defense and swings, all undertakings for which we had poorly prepared. Our muscles weren’t truly warm or conditioned for the task at hand.
If the NFL films videos are any indication, where coaches walk around exchanging witty chit-chat with their players, their sport may be behind MLB. Those dudes seem to be on the turf halfheartedly reaching from one shin to another. As I’m certain you’ve noticed, this isn’t a big part of football. The ritual, like in baseball, is about tradition. I can hear the strength coaches now, “That’s the way we’ve done it around here for decades and it’s always worked!” Ughhh.
In both sports, this routine seems better suited for post game, as players could catch up on the game and comfortably and enjoyably “cool down.”
Research work by McNair (2000) and Knudson (2001) demonstrates that progressing through the motions to be used in the upcoming activity is the best way to appropriately prepare the muscles during a warm up. Static stretches are the most effective during post-activity cool downs.
I’m simply taking this concept a step further and suggesting the ‘dynamic’ stretches actually are the forthcoming activity.
The more progressive folks in the fitness and athletic industries now use active warm ups like the ones I use before sprinting.
If I’m crunched for time and can’t go through a full warm up, I simply perform my upcoming workout at low intensity before ramping up.
- 400 yard jog
- 20 yards of high knees
- 20 yards of side shuffles facing in each direction
- 20 yards of butt-kickers
- 20 yards of skips