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As sport seasons start up again, don’t forget about your warm-up routine during practices and competition! A proper warm-up is essential to prepare athletes both physically and mentally to perform their activity at the highest level.  Including warm-ups before training yields improved muscular blood flow, increases metabolic reaction rates, takes joints through their full range of motion, increases the speed of neural transmission, improves the rate of force development, and accelerates the development of power.  Warming up can also help athletes mentally prepare by setting the tone and pace of the upcoming competition or training. For these reasons and more, a proper, specific and deliberate warm-up is vital for athlete performance enhancement and injury prevention. Let’s talk about the four key steps to a great warm-up!

Step #1- Pulse Raiser

The first step of a great warm-up is cardiorespiratory movement geared towards raising the athlete’s pulse rate and increasing blood flow throughout their musculature.  This step is also geared towards raising the body temperature to prepare the neurovascular system for activity.  Pulse raisers can be any activity that gets the body moving with minimal stress on the joints and tissues. These can include, but are not limited to, jogging, skipping, biking, and light calisthenics.

Step #2- Mobility/Active Stretching

The goal of the second phase of the warm-up is to take the joints through their full and un-inhibited range of motion.  This allows for ideal joint function and integration into their proper movement patterns.  Mobility is essential to injury prevention, because if we have restricted motion in one joint or muscle, the motion will be forced onto a joint above and/or below, throwing off the balance of movement and opening the athlete up to injury!  Some great examples of mobility drills are arm circles, hip openers, walking lunges, high kicks, knee to chest pulls, etc. I do consider targeted foam a member of this category, as it does provide benefits for muscle extensibility and joint movement.  You will notice that these are all active movements. The static or “stretch and hold” form of stretching has been shown in recent research to have very limited usefulness as part of a pre-sport warm-up routine.

Step #3- Dynamic Movement

Our third step is to incorporate sport-specific speed and directional change exercises into the warm-up in order to prime the body to perform. While these activities will vary depending on the sport, they all share the common goal of integrating the mobility increases gained in step #2 into the sport-specific movement patterns.  A few great examples for these warm-ups are carioca runs, suicide runs, turn/lateral shift to short sprint exercises, and jumps with two/one-foot landings.  There are many exercises that would work for this phase, so get creative! And, the more sport specific you can be, the better!

Step #4- Skill Rehearsal

Once the body is sufficiently warmed and primed by steps 1 through 3, and we can get into basic movement patterns and skills that will be used in the upcoming activity.  This should be entirely sport specific.  This phase is less about preparing the physical side for performance, but the mental and emotional sides.  Here, the athlete can focus on rehearsing the movements and plays about to be performed.  The conclusion of this phase should be played as close to game speed as possible, so the athlete can carry the preparation seamlessly into the performance of the activity.

A proper warm-up is essential to enhancing athlete performance and decreasing the risk of injury during the ensuing session.  Following the steps listed in this article will help to prepare the athlete physically, as well as mentally, for the demands of the sport to be played. Proper care should be taken to make it as athlete and sport specific as possible, to allow for the best transition onto the playing field.

Happy playing!