The conventional wisdom about how to properly prepare for training and competition has changed drastically in the last 5-10 years. It used to be accepted that players would run a bit, stretch, and be ready to go. Studies have repeatedly shown that this approach is actually detrimental to performance and that it can contribute to injury.
The warm up period prior to training or competition should accomplish the following:
Traditional Warm Up
For years, warm up consisted of a run followed by static stretching. Players would run around the field and “circle up” for a group stretch often led by the team’s captains. It turns out that there are some problems with the traditional approach to warm up:
Listen to this: Static stretching decreases muscle elasticity and explosive capacity for up to 90 min.
Performing static stretches prior to competition is like stretching out a rubber band. After you stretch the rubber band with some intensity, it loses some of its elasticity. That is to say it doesn’t return to its original tension. Studies of gymnasts have recorded a decrease in vaulting height after periods of static stretching, indicating a drop in explosive capacity in the muscles stretched. Explosive capacity is needed to accelerate, but it’s also needed to decelerate and change direction. Lowering the ability to do these two things exposes players to a greater risk of injury. Muscles work the same way as rubber bands (or bundles of rubber bands), and losing elasticity can lead to trouble:
“Specific” Movement and Dynamic Flexibility Exercises
Game-like movements that start gently and increase in intensity as the muscles get warm have been shown to provide a better preparation for exercise than static stretching, largely because they allow the body to warm the muscles you will actually be using to play in the way you will use them during competition. Dynamic flexibility exercises allow the muscle to operate in the way you are going to use it through a large range of motion. They are characterized by:
Video of dynamic flexibility exercises coming soon!