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Stretching-is it a poor warm up strategy?

Winter is coming. The mornings and nights are getting chilly and winter sport is in full swing. Warming up prior to exercise has never been more important.

Since under 12’s we have all completed a similar warm up routine. Arrive at training, run a lap and then sit in a big circle to complete 10 minutes of static stretches with long holds. It’s a routine that has almost been ingrained into sporting culture.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that you’ve also been told by your coach or parents that pre-exercise stretching is vital to minimise the risk of injury. But is this correct?

The traditional belief that stretching muscle tissue prior to physical activity has been a highly debated topic in the science world. Some scholars argue that static stretching (holding a position without moving) may reduce maximal strength, power and performance and therefore increase the likelihood of injury. Others suggest that this is only the case for long hold static stretching (over 60 seconds). Either way, the research recommends more dynamic movements as a way of maximising performance and reducing injury rather than static stretching.

The main purpose of warming up is to promote blood flow and to ‘prime’ the muscle groups being used in that activity. Therefore, dynamic movements that replicate the demands of the activity are the best.

Let’s look at an example for soccer players.

Soccer players require lots of bending, swinging and lateral movements throughout a game. Therefore, after a running a lap to increase core body temperature (and to promote blood flow) a suitable warm up routine would involve a gradual progression of these movements.

For example, an excellent warm up program for soccer players is the FIFA -11+ which is used widely around the world and takes only 20 minutes to complete. Studies have shown that this program (which involves a variety of dynamic movements) may reduce overall lower limb injuries by up to 50% including ankle and knee injuries.

Watch this video which breaks down the FIFA-11+ warm up program:

Using the principles of gradually progressing intensity and ranges of movement, modifications of the FIFA-11+ are used for many other sports such as AFL and netball. For example, AFL players may spend 5 minutes running and bending over to pick up a ball as an element of their warm up program.

Essentially a good pre-exercise program makes you warm, replicates the demands of the sport and increases in intensity over a 20 minute period. It should be more dynamic than static.

If you are unsure on how to best prepare for your sport, out physios can help plan an individualised warm up program for you.

All the best with your winter sports!

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