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If you’re interested in putting yourself in a position to perform at the highest level possible while decreasing your risk for injuries, then you may be interested in a proper warmup. “Warming up" is quite literally the process of warming up our bodies temperature, but that’s not all that happens.
The process of warming up increases your heart rate and therefore your blood flow which enables oxygen and other nutrients to reach your muscles more quickly. It also allows for a quicker removal of waste products created by the muscles during physical activity, like sugars turned to carbon dioxide, which we exhale while breathing.
A warm-up also activates and primes the connections between your nerves and muscles, which improves the efficiency of movement Additionally, your range of motion (flexibility) should be increased due to optimization of the visco-elastic (stretchiness) properties of our muscles, joints, and connective tissues.
Think of a piece of gum, it’s more likely to stretch in warmer weather than it is in the freezing cold. Your muscles have similar properties. In general, those are desirable traits for most sports. So, what do we need to ensure that this happens? There are two main things the body is looking for:
How can we achieve this? An active warm-up, consisting of a brief (less than 15 minute) aerobic exercise and some (4-5) brief sprints/performance-pace efforts elicit these effects and the performance improvements that come with them. You want to ease into it with some movements that use a lot of your bodies muscles at once. That can include fast paced walking, jogging, side steps, air squats, walking up/down stairs, or almost anything you enjoy doing that will progressively increase your body temperature and heart rate.
Then, you may wish to go into a sport-specific warmup, where you perform some of the movements you’ll be doing in your sport. This is also a great time to prepare your mind and visualize the field of play to prepare your muscles and your mind for competition.
And lastly, you’ll want to get into some targeted drill that address any lingering tightnesses, or area’s you may feel need extra attention. For example, a runner with tight hamstrings may choose to foam roll their hamstrings to get themselves ready for competition. Someone who has some tight pecs before rowing may choose to use the myofascial releaser portion of the rehab roller to dig in and loosen them up so that they can use their back muscles better. Or a gymnast may wish to do some end range strengthening drills to promote control and stability before competition.
Going from a general warm up, into a sport specific warmup, and then finishing off with an individualized targeted warmup would complete the golden-triad of the perfect warmup. Once all these things are addressed, assuming that you’re not tired, sick, or exhausted from something else, there’s nothing left to do except perform.
After competition, although you might want to repeat the same process in reverse you don’t have to! The key is to do something somewhat active while you’re heart rate, blood pressure, and tissue temperature begin to return to normal. Think of it as landing an airplane; you want to do it as gradually and smoothly as possible. Performing some light stretching and foam rolling with help with decreasing muscle soreness after the workout. That way, you can’t lose!