From time to time TruPrevention will have guest bloggers. These are experts in their field that have been kind to share their professional knowledge with all of you. Our first guest blogger is Dr. Jessica Leach. She received her Bachelor’s in Athletic Training and Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Central Arkansas. Currently she works as an Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist at OrthoArkansas in North Little Rock, AR. I met Jessica when she was a graduate assistant at UCA and am very excited to have her take time out of her hectic schedule to talk about the importance of warming up. With no further ado, I’ll let her take it away…
The past several summers I have played on my church’s kickball team. Some people take it pretty seriously, but most of us are laid back… I mean, it’s a playground game. A lot of my teammates have been in their 30s or even 40s. Most of them are healthy people, but definitely former jocks turned weekend warriors at best. Every game I would say, “Let’s run to the fence” or “Don’t forget to warm-up”. Most of them would look at me long enough to chuckle while they continued chatting along the fence row. (What do I know? I’m just a physical therapist and athletic trainer.)It comes time to kick. Here comes the ball, perfect strike, followed by a monstrous kick that is sure to be a home run… and a searing pain in the upper thigh causing a pitiful limp to first base.
That, my friends, is a pulled muscle (also known as a muscle strain). These are very common injuries that vary in severity and can cause a lot of problems. They happen in explosive movements (like kicking or running) or sudden stops. The easiest way to prevent a muscle strain is to warm up before any activities that might consist of these type of movements. What is a warm up? Arnheim’s Principles of Athletic Training (AKA the Bible of Athletic Training) defines a warm up as activity to prepare the body for upcoming physical work. This typically involves a gradual increase in intensity of physical activity to raise the pulse. Warming up increases blood flow to muscles and causes a safer response to activity.
But wait… do activity before doing activity? Well…yeah. But warm up activities should consist of something that is fairly easy such as fast paced walk or a slow jog. A lot of people stretch before an activity. There is a lot of debate among health and fitness professionals about static vs. dynamic stretching. Static stretching (passive stretch of a muscle over an extended time) is generally considered safe and what I typically give the average patient to increase flexibility over time. (Think high school PE: try to touch your toes and hold it for 30 seconds.) Dynamic stretching is typically more sport like movements that improve flexibility for shorter term segments. (Think football team in pre-game.) Dynamic stretching is considered more functional and often recommended prior to sport participation. (My own warm-up is found below, including dynamic stretches.)
Whatever your activity is your warm up should be something that starts fairly easy and gradually builds to just less than the intensity of the activity you intend to do. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a 5-10 minute warm up period.
Here’s my current kickball warm up: I slowly jog (1/4 to 1/2 speed) from the dugout to the fence a couple of times. The next lap I do high knees (bringing your knees toward your chest) for about half the distance, move into a light sprint (3/4 speed), and back down to a jog (1/2 speed). This is followed by butt kicks (like it sounds… kick your heels to your butt during your run..and it’s a dynamic stretch) for half the distance, move to a light sprint (3/4 speed), back down to a jog (1/2 speed). Next I try to kick my leg Rockette style several times (dynamic stretch!). After all of this is done if I feel tight anywhere I specifically stretch that muscle group (in that static stretch way that I mentioned before). This particular warm up is good for kickball because it specifically addresses muscle groups (quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors) and movements (running and kicking) used in this sport.
For the record, in 4 seasons of kickball I have 0 muscle strains. In fact, all of my teammates this year are 20 somethings or early 30s who realize the importance of warming up and do their own version of a warm up even if it is just jogging to the fence. The only muscle strain our team has sustained this year was one of the guys getting his foot caught on a base (which is somewhat of a freak incident that will cause an injury but really isn’t preventable—that’s just bad luck!).
Warming up isn’t going to be the best part of whatever fun and fit activity you have planned, but 5-10 minutes of moving around is a lot better than 6-8 weeks of a nagging injury. Warming up will not guarantee an injury free exercise session, but it will decrease the odds a lot. So get moving!