Warming up has been done prior to a sporting event or game for years, and its usefulness has always been assumed by coaches and players.
However, in a New York Times article in 2010 there appeared an article which questioned the validity of doing warm-ups at all.
The basis for this opinion was from anecdotal evidence of a variety of different runners, all of whom had varying warm-up routines from a few minutes to a cyclist who did 90 minutes of warming up before a competition.
Not only was the duration of the warm-up highly varied, but the specific exercises also differed markedly from athlete to athlete leaving the author to question the practise of the warm-up entirely. There also was a quote from a researcher who stated the dearth of solid evidence in favour of warming up.
However in the same year there was a paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which collected and examined 2,355 different studies and completed a meta-analysis weeding out poorly designed studies.
The results showed that warming up improved performance in 79 per cent of the criterions studied. And although the amount of improvement found in these studies (from one to 20 per cent) seems small, in a sport competition this is a big improvement, and can make a huge difference in the outcome. This is especially true in elite level sports where fractions of a second can determine whether one stands on the podium or sits in the stands.
The problem with some of the poorly designed studies was that the warm-up exercises may not have been appropriate for the sport played.
In other words if you did jumping jacks before a swimming event you wouldn’t expect to get much benefit or improved performance. So the type of warm-up exercise should closely simulate the movements of the sport or at least incorporate some of the movement elements. As one would expect, if you are warming up for baseball, part of the warm-up should be devoted to throwing.
The warm-up should incorporate low intensity cardiovascular exercise (such as jogging), increasing the range-of-motion (dynamic stretching) and sport-specific movements especially for the nervous system (agility and coordination drills).
The goal is to increase muscle temperature and stimulate blood flow, make tissues more pliable and get the nervous system ready for the game.
The total time of the warm-up need not be much more than 10-15 minutes, but this can vary depending on the level of competition.
However the wisdom of extremely long warm-ups should be questioned, as you do not want to produce fatigue before the game.
You should also avoid warming up at high speeds or heart-rates for long periods too. A small number of short bursts can ‘wake-up’ the nervous system, but if done for too long can again produce fatigue.
If your legs feel tired and heavy after the warm-up period, then you may have gone too hard for too long. And if you are tired and your competition is not, you are at a disadvantage.
In the end, the warm-up should produce a better performance in the game.
If it doesn’t, then you need to go back and readjust your warm-up.
Kerry Senchyna is owner of West Coast Kinesiology and is a registered kinesiologist (BCAK).