Do you spend a good half hour opening up your entire body, or do you rush to the site and jump into the activities with just a few stretches?

Insufficient warm-up will not only increase the risk of injuries, but also decrease the benefits of training.  Here are the reasons why elite athletes value the quality warm-up before their high-level performance.

1. Increased blood flow

Athletic activities increase the heart rate.  It is a bit stressful for a resting heart to jump start to pump a lot of blood throughout the body rapidly.  The body will respond more favorably when we move the blood through the arms and legs and increase the core temperature gradually to literally “warm-up” before moving around and stretching out.

2. Increased mobility

Sitting in a classroom for hours before practice, or driving for a while to get to the gym will keep the muscles in a fixed length. Therefore, you feel stiff when you get up and try to move around.  Imagine how it would feel if shortened groin muscles were forced to split when taking a big lunge to the side to make an awesome dig? What if you even slipped on a sweat drop and went a little too far?

How about you swing 200 times to serve and spike every practice, but your trunk was so stiff you weren’t able to turn and/or extend well?  In order to swing properly you need to pull your elbow up and back behind you before ball contact. In a perfect world, you would like your thoracic spine to be able to rotate and extend well along with the shoulder motion to get the elbow back.  However, if any of the thoracic motion is restricted, it is most likely that the shoulder joint has to pick up the slack and compensate for the lacking range of motion in order to get the elbow back to the position where it needs to be.  This increases the undesirable rubbing in the shoulder joint.  How many days of 200 swings do you think it would take for this friction to create wear and tear in the shoulder labrum?

In some cases you may get away with the injury risk, but how about the performance perspective? If you can access the longest range of your reach from the beginning of practice, you could possibly get quality repetitions all the way through.  It might take an inch of difference to save a point with a pancake, or could be an inch higher contact point to get a service ace.  You want that extra inch in every rep during every practice so that you can perform it when most needed such as for the match winning point.  When you grind and sweat, you would want every rep to count, so that you can get the most out of each workout, right?

3. Activation

Now you are warm and stretched out.  Are you ready to sprint, cut and jump?  Not just yet.  

The muscles move the bone structure.  The electricity from the nerve initiates the muscle contraction.  In order to stimulate fast, strong and explosive muscle contraction, you also need to wake up the nervous system as the type of activity requires.  This process of activation of the electric circuit is called potentiation.  The better you activate the nervous system, the more you are able to recruit the appropriate muscle fibers, thus fully preparing you for any type of physical activities!  

In future blogs, I will introduce some of the warm-up examples for each categories described above.  Stay tuned!