One of the goals of the Dragonfly girlgear™ blog is to provide readers with evidence-based, practical information to help encourage safe and healthy participation in sports for all athletes, but with a special focus for preadolescent and adolescent girls. I am pleased to introduce Dr. Lindsay Di Stefano who will give us the most up-to-date advice. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. Dr. DiStefano is also a certified athletic trainer with experience treating and rehabilitating injured athletes. Her primary research through the Human Performance Laboratory at UCONN focuses on finding ways to prevent injuries related to sport and physical activity.
Dr. DiStefano writes today on A Proper Warm-Up.
First Step to Any Activity: A Proper Warm-up
Fifteen girls put their bags down and jog around the soccer field together. They stop at midfield and align themselves in a circle with one teammate in the center. This “captain” leads her team through a series of static stretches by counting off 30 seconds per stretch. After the team has completed a few stretches, they walk off the field to their waiting coach and begin practice. Have you seen this scenario before?
I surely have! Here is an example of another common scenario frequently played out on youth sport fields: The team arrives, they start talking to one another catching up on the day’s events, and may start juggling or passing to one another before the actual practice begins. Or a third scenario occurs when an athlete walks out of their front door and starts running three miles. Unfortunately, the athletes in all three scenarios are not helping themselves be as prepared as possible for any training, practice, or game. Not only are these athletes not putting their bodies in the best condition for performance, but they may also be increasing their risk of injury.
A better solution to these examples above is to gradually prepare your body for the upcoming activity.
The first thing to do is to start increasing your heart rate, which will begin to “warm-up” your muscles. There are many ways to accomplish this goal. You can walk at progressively faster speeds, leading to a jog, possibly incorporate some quicker runs, or you can ride a bike with low resistance, or even play a small game that involves low to moderate effort. The goal is to just get your body moving and your heart rate up!
After you are feeling “warm” and perhaps even sweating a little, you can start performing some specific exercises for various muscles. These exercises will help your muscles get used to working (producing force) while they are moving. Here is where the big difference lies between traditional “static stretching” and a “dynamic warm-up”. Once you have “warmed up” your body through gradual exercise, you do not want to stand in place and essentially cool it down. Static stretches that are held for a long period of time may interfere with your muscles’ ability to work effectively. Research has shown that a dynamic warm up more effectively prepares the body for athletic participation. Instead of performing static stretches, try some of these dynamic movements. Similar to the warm up activity, you should gradually progress the speed and intensity used for these exercises. You will be ready to jump into full-speed activity when you are finished with these exercises.
Walking knee to chest, lateral shuffles and skipping are a few movements to get you started. Look for the addendum to this blog post for an easy to print off comprehensive list of dynamic movements that can improve your warm-up routine.
So next time you see athletes start performing “static” stretches before any physical activity, suggest to them that they should try out some new moves that might help prevent injury and may improve their performance!