B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 37
A Pound of Prevention
Part II: Warm-ups
By Mike Mejia, CSCS
In the opening installment of this series on ACL injury prevention, I outlined some of the various strategies that you can employ to help reduce your risk of falling victim to this devastating condition. Chief among these being the need to always engage in a proper warm-up prior to any type of physical activity. Although the importance of warming up is often overlooked, many experts in the fields of both strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation have identified it as a major factor in terms of helping to prevent injuries. In fact, a recent study conducted on over 2400 swedish athletes showed a 64% decrease in the occurrence of ACL injuries as a result of warming up just twice per week.
Of course, not just any old warm-up will do. If you’re really serious about keeping this injury at bay, you can forget the whole “jog around the field and static stretch” approach. It’s going to take something a little more involved than that.
Your warm-up checklist:
Before we actually go over the proper way to warm-up, it’s important to understand what objectives we’re trying to accomplish in the period leading up to physical activity. During the warm-up period your goals should be to:
Increase body temperature: Increased body temperature will help make your muscles more pliable and receptive to changes in length and tension.
Increase blood flow to working muscles: Shunting blood away from central circulation (the brain and internal organs) where most of it is at rest and out towards your limbs, helps to lubricate joints and increase oxygen availability.
Stimulate the Central Nervous System (CNS): Taking your body from relative rest to a much more active state, requires you to “fire-up” your central nervous system, so that your muscles can be recruited more efficiently and with greater force.
Increase Range of Motion: The better you’re able to move, the less likely you’ll be to sustain a wide variety of injuries. This involves a lot more than just static stretching, though.
Over the course of the past several years, traditional static stretching (the type you hold a muscle in the stretched position for at least 30 seconds at a time) has fallen out of favor as an effective means of warming up. The thought process being that since it mainly involves passively increasing range of motion, it doesn’t effectively increase body temperature, blood flow and perhaps most importantly, CNS activation. As a result, we get muscles that contract slower with slightly less force and as such, actually increase our chances of getting hurt.
Instead, neuromuscular warm-ups, which are comprised of dynamic flexibility drills, progressive strengthening exercises, low level plyometrics and agility work, have become all the rage. Not only do they get the blood pumping, but by actively increasing range of motion they stimulate the CNS, which sets the stage for more synchronized movement, as well as stronger, more powerful muscle contractions.
The following video is an example of the type of dynamic warm-up protocol that you should use prior to your practices a couple of times per week. It contains many of the same drills from the Swedish study, along with some others that I deem to be especially worthwhile for female athletes to include as part of their training. Take a look and see how this compares to what you’re doing now. If it’s radically different from your current warm-up approach (i.e. you and your teammates are still standing in a circle and counting to 20 as you hold a quad stretch), you’ve got some changes to make! Don’t worry though, you’ll be well rewarded for your efforts by experiencing an increased level of confidence and improved ability to move out on the field. More importantly though, adopting this approach might just keep you from ever having a run in with one of the most dreaded injuries in the sports world today.
* Note: As in the swish study, the warm-up contained in the video should be preceded by at least 5-10 minutes of low level running drills. High knees, butt kickers, side shuffles, cariocas, back pedals, multidirectional skipping etc.
** The following link will bring you to my video on proper landing mechanics for plyometric jumps. Be sure to add in a couple of sets of both unilateral and bilateral stick jumps at the end of the warm-up. Keep the reps low (4-6 per exercise) and pay special attention to proper landing mechanics.