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How Do Warm-Up Exercises Really Help To Prevent Injury?

Athletes know how to give their all on the court or field but they also have to know how to properly take care of their bodies in order to be at their physical best. Eating a well-balanced diet and being committed to hours of practice are ways that true competitors can maintain their healthy lifestyles. However, warm-up exercises done before the game are crucial to enhancing stamina, increasing strength or speed and most importantly, preventing injuries. Warm-ups have been used for years and in just about every sport. While there is still a bit of uncertainty among some as to the true benefit of these exercises, the positive effects highly outweigh the prospect of what may happen without completing them.

A dynamic warm-up is simply preparing your mind and body shortly before the start of any athletic event. A bit of work before the competition allows the athlete to get mentally prepared for the strategies and participation that is ahead. However, multiple physical benefits have also been documented while completing a pre-game routine. Overall, these routines simply get the body ready for the increased demand of physical activity. This is accomplished in several ways. First, the circulatory system begins to work a bit faster, pumping oxygen rich blood more quickly to various muscles.

In a relaxed state, only 15-20% of blood actually flows out to the skeletal muscles. Most of the tiny vessels, known as capillaries, are closed. But within 10-15 minutes of exercise, this vessels open and blood flow increases to approximately 75%. This increase allows the muscle temperatures to rise, thus making the muscles work more efficiently. Muscles that are warmed up contract and relax faster, with much more force. This not only enhances strength and speed but prevents harmful tears of the muscle. When muscles are cold, they do not adequately absorb shock and are much more prone to tears or over extending.

An athlete’s most important organ, the heart, also benefits from a short yet productive warm-up. These initial exercises prepare the heart for the upcoming increase in activity and gradually increases circulation. This prevents a sudden, sometimes dangerous spike in an individual’s blood pressure. While it is difficult to find scientific studies that accurately document the relationship between warm-up exercises and muscle injuries, there are those that do show benefits to the heart. High intensity activities such as intense sports done without preparation have produced abnormal EKG changes in studied participants. These changes are linked the low blood supply that limited time to travel to the heart muscle.

There are some general guidelines that are helpful to follow when designing a warm-up routine. The session should last between 10-20 minutes, depending on the intensity of the sport that follows. Exercises should start out slow and controlled and gradually increase in pace. The result should be a mild sweat, never fatigue or exhaustion. It is most beneficial to work on large groups of muscles first, then concentrate on motions that will target areas that are more specific to the activity that follows. For instance, a soccer player should stretch, lightly jog then work on slow and controlled soccer related drills. These could include dribbling, passing, etc. A competitive swimmer would also stretch to begin then take to the water to swim slowly and then end with an up-tempo pace. Track and field athletes would follow suit but instead of swimming they would need to alternate between slow and brisk walking, followed by jogging.

Ball handling activities would incorporate sport specific drills into their pre-game warm-ups. Basketball players would need to prepare for physical exertion as well as getting the arms and legs ready for shooting, dribbling or rebounding. Football stars, especially quarterbacks, would concentrate on warming up their passing arm, stretching out their shoulders and getting the legs ready for quick movements along with sudden changes in directions. Tennis players and golfers should stretch and get their upper bodies ready for long, smooth swings of the arm. This also keeps their backs from being negatively affected by the intense upper body exertion that is about to take place.

It is important for athletes to always consult a medical professional before designing a warm-up plan. This ensures their safety as well as making sure they will achieve the desired results from the exercises. Coaches and athletic trainers will also work together to devise a plan that gets their team mentally and physically prepared. The highest level of competition is the ultimate goal of any player but more importantly, athletes need to take every precaution to maintain their safety and prevent an unnecessary injury.

Ed B Kravitz