The chances are high that if you’re reading this you’re not a professional athlete. In fact, you’re more likely part of an exclusive population of active adults. Whether you’re snagging a pickelball racket, heading out to a soccer game, or simply lifting weights at the gym, you’re likely not giving much thought to warming up. After all, you just finished an eight hour work day you barely made it to the gym or game on time. You do a few toe touches, jog 20 yards and lace up ready to go… or so you thought. Ten minutes into the game you stretch out reaching with your arm or foot to swat at a ball and then, “POP!” You drag yourself to the side with a few choice words mumbled, thinking “I’m just getting too old for this stuff.”
It’s easy to blame age. After all, we need to blame something, right? Before looking for the easy scapegoat of age ask yourself, “am I getting my body prepared for activity?” All exercise treats our body differently. Preparing our body with a warm up for moving in multiple directions is essential. Warm up programs are different depending on the activity. A great warm up program is more than touching your toes a few times and swinging your arms in giant circles.
Let’s consider a person’s day whose job involves sitting and working on a computer. Following eight hours of sleeping (complete muscle inactivity) is a 30 minute commute to work. Over the next eight hours they are sitting sedentarily at their desk. Next up is a 30 minute commute home. Are you catching on yet? Suddenly they have clocked almost 18 straight hours of inactivity. How can we expect our muscles to instantly function in high gear following a day of perpetually tightening up our hip flexors, groin, hamstrings, and calves? Properly stretching and preparing your muscles for any athletic event is key; especially after a long day of sitting.
What does a proper warm up look like?
Warming up should mimic the activity which lies ahead. Soccer for example; requires multidirectional running, cutting, and quick stops. Therefore your warm up should include jogging forward, backward, and cutting. Add in side shuffles, carioca, and pivoting; now you’re beginning to prepare your muscles for activity.
Don’t forget about your shortened hip flexors, groin, hamstrings and calves. For example let’s say you want to stretch your calves in all three planes of motion (front and back, side to side and twisting). A three dimensional stretch for your calves would look something like this:
“I simply don’t have enough time to warm up” isn’t an excuse for skipping your warm up. Spending five to ten minutes warming up correctly will leave you better prepared for physical activity. Just remember your warm up should:
2. Involve stretching of muscles that are tightened throughout a work day
a. Lower body: hip flexors, hamstrings, groin and calves
b. Upper body: pectoralis and thoracic spine rotation and extension
Spending five to ten minutes to prepare for physical exertion can help avoid injury. Spare yourself weeks of PT and the phrase, “I’m getting too old for this.”
Enoka, Roger M.Neuromechanics of Human Movement 3rd edition. United States. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication. 2002.