How to warm-up
Start your exercise routine off on the right foot by warming up properly.
Failure to warm-up properly is the biggest single cause of sports injury. Most muscles operate in pairs. One muscle contracts as the other stretches. If the stretching muscle isn't warm, it might not respond. Result: pulled muscle or ligament.
Warm-up stretches prepare joints and muscles for what is to come. It will enable your body to perform at its best and protect it against injuries, aches and stiffness during the game, the following morning and later in life. Warming up provides muscles with the glucose and oxygen they need for maximum efficiency and as they get warmer they stretch more easily and you can move your joints more safely.
If you're a bit unfit or just starting exercise it's tempting to skimp on the warm-up to save yourself for the real thing. Don't. If you find yourself sweating like Tom Jones in a sauna within two minutes of starting exercise, it is because your body is trying to respond to the sudden demands being placed upon it. Warming up will stop this.
On the other hand, don't kid yourself you'll be OK because you're fit. The constant pounding of joints puts sports players at greater risk of osteoarthritis - a recent survey of current and former professional footballers found that nearly half of them had the disease.
The more energetic the exercise and the older you are, the longer and more thoroughly you need to warm up. For vigorous sport, the warm up itself should leave you a little breathless. Twenty minutes is not an uncommon warm-up time for sports like football.
Warm-up each muscle group then do some specific stretches appropriate to what you're going to be doing. Relax and move gently and rhythmically.
Make sure the quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh and the hamstring at the back are loose and warm. Equally important are the adductors on the inside of the thighs by the groin. This is classic groinstrain territory - a difficult muscle injury to treat. For the same reason, do some stretches that loosen your neck. Finish off with activity related to the upcoming exercise. A bit of ball juggling before football, say - it might be the only touch you get.
Some stretches are best avoided. Letting your head drop back as far it will go or lying on your back and lifting legs back over your head can both damage the neck. Deep knee bends where you squat right down, sit-ups with straight legs and the windmill (touching toes of one foot with the opposite arm while keeping legs straight) are also dangerous.
If you don't know how to warm-up, try these six to start
- feet slightly apart, knees slightly bent, hands on hips, gently turn the head as far as comfortable to the right and hold for two seconds. Do the same to the left. Repeat 4 5 times. Keep chin level and shoulders straight.
- with feet and knees in the same position, rest each hand on the shoulder above and keep elbows tucked in. Move elbows forward and raise them as you go as far as they'll go. Repeat 5-6 times. Try it the other way, taking the elbows back. Don't push it.
- with feet and knees in the same starting position, bend the left kneee slightly more and allow the right heel to slide out, straightening the leg. Pull your toes towards you and feel the pull in the calf muscle. Hold for a couple of seconds. Repeat 4-5 times for each leg.
- gently march on the spot, slowly peeling each foot from toe to heel from the ground and then raising it just two or three inches. Get a nice, easy rhythm. Continue for 30 seconds to a minute. Don't break into a jog.
- feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent and hands on hips, gently swing hips to the right, back to the centre and then to the left. Keep weight even on both feet and your body in the same plane (ie. don't stick your bum out). Repeat 8-10 times.
- the leg and arm curl involves moving the arms and legs together. Feet slightly apart, knees slightly bent, arms raised slightly in front and fists clenched, slowly raise the right knee as if trying to touch your buttock with your heel and return it to the ground. Repeat with the left leg. With each leg movement raise your clenched fists up to your shoulder and lower them. Keep elbows in to your side. Repeat 8-10 times for each leg again in a gentle rhythm.
Stretches help maintain mobility, prevent injury, reduce after-exercise soreness and give greater muscle-power. (For more on the importance of stretching, click here). Hold these positions for 4-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Ease through the stretches. Do not strain or jerk. The technique of small, bouncing movements called ballistic stretching can damage muscle fibre.
Gluteal stretch (for the stomach and thighs)
lie on your back, feet flat on ground with knees pointing skywards. Rest the lower part of the left leg against the right knee. Grasp the back of the right thigh with both hands and, lifting the right foot from the floor, gently ease it (and thus the left leg too) towards you. Don't push it.
sitting upright on the ground with the right leg straight out in front, bend the left one slightly, allowing the knee to drop away from you but keeping the foot flat. Keeping back straight and stomach in, lean forward until you feel the stretch along the back of your right leg. Repeat with left leg.
Lower calf stretch
sitting upright on the ground with the right leg straight out in front and the left one bent slightly, take the ball of your left foot in your hand and pull the leg towards your chest stretching the Achilles tendon. Repeat with right leg.
With your back straight, raise one arm and drop it over your shoulder, reaching down your back feeling the stretch in the upper arm. Repeat with other arm.
sit up straight with right arm bent behind you, hand flat against your back. While using the left hand to ease the right arm across your back reach up with the right hand towards the middle of the shoulder blades and feel the stretch in the outer shoulder.
Upper calf stretch
facing a wall, step forwards onto a bent left leg. Resting hands on wall, deepen the left leg bend and ease right leg back. You should feel the stretch at the top of the calf on the right leg.
Inner thigh stretch
with legs wide apart and weight even, knees slightly bent and hands on hips, deepen the bend in one leg, straightening the other by sliding it out. Feel the stretch at the top of the thigh.
balancing yourself against a wall, gently raise one heel up towards your buttocks by grasping the ankle with your hand. Feel the stretch in the quadriceps just above the knees.
Exactly how many and of which of the above you do will depend on your sport though there's no reason not to do them all. Obviously you can adapt and develop these and add your own but be careful of dangerous stretches mentioned above.
Page created on May 9th, 2003
Page updated on January 18th, 2010