Next time you’re at the gym or out at the sports field, take note of the people around you as they arrive – more often than not, they’ll start exercising almost immediately. One of the most common causes of sports injury is lack of, or insufficient warm-up. Starting a workout routine or joining a game right away is a really bad idea, and a great way to cause an acute muscle injury such as a hamstring strain. Always warm-up before engaging in any strenuous activity.
If you do see people warming up, take a look at the kind of warm-up they’re doing. Most people, especially those from older generations, warm-up using static stretches – holding a stretch for several seconds while standing still. In contrast, dynamic stretching has been widely accepted in the last decade or so as the gold standard, and is an accepted method in most professional sports. As compared to static stretching, dynamic stretching is performed through movements.
A good warm-up can be completed in just five minutes, and should include a combination of stretching, light cardiovascular exercises, and explosive drills such as jumps or sprints. Unlike static stretching where the goal is solely limbering up muscles, in the dynamic methodology, you’re preparing your body for what’s to come by also loosening your joints, and slowly increasing your body temperature and heart rate.
It’s also important to vary your routine. Most people go through the same warm-up ritual no matter what they plan to do, however different activities engage different muscle groups, so you need to make sure you’re targeting the right ones. Which ones depends on the activity – hockey, running, and hiking use different groups than say, rowing, swimming or even climbing. A good dynamic session will get all relevant muscle groups engaged.
The reason dynamic stretching has been so widely accepted is that at the conclusion of a good warm-up session, you can transition right into the middle of an active game. For example, jump lunges warm up your lower body and activate the stabilizer muscle groups in your legs. Immediately after a warm-up, you can launch right into a winter trail run and be confident in your legs’ ability to maintain balance
There has also been some research into performance gains as a result of dynamic stretching versus either no stretching or static stretching. Athletes were routinely able to lift more weight and increase their general performance again and again after a dynamic warm-up. In the same studies, they found that static stretching could in fact inhibit performance, however, it is the best solution for post-workout cool down.
The best part of dynamic stretching is that the movements are simple, easy to learn, and very effective. Here are a few great examples – taken together in 1 or 2 sets of 10 reps each, they’ll get your whole body ready for action in less than ten minutes, and there’s no need for any equipment:
Start with high kicks. Picture in your mind jack-booted soldiers marching – that’s kind of what you want to achieve. As you march (yes, walking is fine), try to keep your arms and legs straight. As your right arm hits the top of its arc, kick your left leg up so that your toes touch your right palm. On the next step, throw your left arm out front and kick your right leg up. Try to get it as high as you can. It’s ok to do it standing in one spot as well, or even with a hand on the wall for balance. Repeat five times each side and your hamstrings will love you.
Next, do a set of ten jump squats. These explosive exercises are also great for warming up your lower body. Stand in one spot, feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, and with your hands behind your head or on your hips. Slowly squat down until your hips are parallel with the ground and then rocket upwards, jumping off the ground as high as you can. Pull the parachute cord, land, and do it again.
Now let’s focus a little higher up on the body, specifically your core and shoulders. Get into the push-up position with your chest flat on the ground. As you push upwards, shoot your left arm straight out and up to the side, supporting your weight with your right arm. Now bring your left arm back and lower yourself down to the ground. Repeat, this time with your right arm going up and out to the side. This exercise is aptly called a T push-up and should be repeated five times each side.
Finally, let’s look at a set for your core, groin, upper body, and middle back. Called a hip stretch, this dynamic stretch starts in a kneeling position with your hands on the floor in front of you. Bring your right foot forward to where your right hand is, and as you do, stretch your right arm up and to the right, pivoting your hip to the right as you do. Now revert to starting position and do the same thing on the left side of your body. Repeat five times on each side. I found this video on YouTube which does a good job explaining the movement.
There are numerous other possibilities – simply do a search in Google for dynamic stretches and you’ll find tons of examples. Make sure to keep all movements relaxed and controlled, and don’t attempt to stretch beyond your regular range of motion, as you could easily injure yourself. So, in conclusion, the next time you see someone leaning on a wall, still as a pole, stretching their calves, show them this article.