In recent years, I’ve been asked many times about the usefulness of historic warm-up methods for sports performance. While the general principles surrounding the need to warm-up remain valid, new methods have been introduced.
A well-structured sports specific warm-up should be implemented to serve the following purposes:
- Mental Readiness
- Physical Readiness
- Injury Prevention
- Performance Enhancement
The days of a simple 2-minute jog around a field or court, followed by some light-hearted arm pulls and calf stretches have been phased out amongst the professional and elite athletes, with the primary focus now being on both injury reduction and improved performance.
A well-designed warm-up typically lasts between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the nature of the activity/sport, and should aim to increase blood flow, muscle temperature, and core temperature; all of which have proven to positively affect performance. To maximize your athletic potential while playing either team or individual sports (for example, squash), start incorporating these 7 phases into your warm-up to take your athletic potential to the next level.
Example Warm-Up for Squash (APPROX: 10 - 12 minutes)
Want to see this warm-up in action? Check out this video featuring Canadian squash pro and Pan Am medallist Sam Cornett as she works her way through the 7 phases.
Phase 1: Soft tissue / mobility preparation
1. Roll out quads (30 - 60s)
2. Roll out glutes (30 - 60s)
Phase 2: General warm-up
Moderate intensity multidirectional movement on-court (2 mins)
Phase 3: Multi-directional hip activation
1. Lateral mini-band walks (10 each side)
2. Monster walks (10 forwards & 10 backwards)
Phase 4: Dynamic flexibility & tissue activation
1. Reverse lunge with arm across – trunk rotation (6 each side)
2. Lateral lunge with push back to start into front lunge with push back to start (6 each side)
Phase 5: Dynamic movement
1. Heels to butt - forwards & backwards (t-line to front wall x 2)
2. Lateral shuffle with side wall touch (side wall to side wall x 4)
Phase 6: Central Nervous System Activation
1. Standing alternating forward/backward explosive leg shuffle over-line (5 - 10s x 2 – rest between sets)
2. Standing single leg explosive lateral toe taps over-line (5s each side x 2 – rest between sets)
Phase 7: On court pre-match hitting
On-court hitting with opponent (3 - 5 mins)
Stretching for Sport Performance
Please take note of how static stretching has not been mentioned or included in this warm-up example. Static stretching – which includes stretches designed to hold a position for a joint or muscle that is minimally challenging – was once a key component of warm-ups, seen as a method to decrease risk of injury and enhance performance; however, there is little evidence to back that belief up. Research in this field suggests that holding a static stretching for longer than 30 seconds during a warm-up can be detrimental to performance, as it reduces force production, power output, running speed, reaction time, and strength endurance.
Dynamic stretching, on the other hand – which are designed to take a joint or muscle through a challenging and repetitive motion, moving a body part further with each repetition – has been consistently shown to be a performance booster. Dynamic stretching may be the most appropriate method to use during warm-ups as it allows the muscles to activate through a range of motion that replicates the rapid movements seen in dynamic activities and sports.
If you’re interested in learning more about creating the right warm-up for you and your sport, please reach out to Mike.
Mike Savage, Personal Trainer & Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Toronto Athletic Club