A warm up is the cornerstone of any good exercise or sports performance. Warming up appropriately will assist in the following:
1. Preparing your muscles for exercise
2. Reducing your chance of injury
3. Increasing your performance
Physical performance is as much a mental process as it is a physical one. Getting yourself into the right frame of mind using a good quality warm up routine is something that all top performers do. It’s just that often we don’t see it. When watching footy on TV, we only see the game. We don’t see the hours of warm up and cool down.
A proper warm up should therefore be seen as a chance to set yourself up to perform at your best. Your warm up should include some deep breathing, some activity to get some blood into the muscles, some visualisation on what exercise you are about to do, and some extra attention paid to any trouble spots you might have.
Imagine standing at one end of the tennis court. A racquet in one hand.
A sweat band wrapped around the wrist on the other.
That slender, Roger Federer type mate of yours down the other end of the court staring you down.
Your hamstrings feel tight. You haven’t played in years.
Or done anything in years for that matter.
You used to have a halfway decent forehand, but now, fear sets in as its obvious that you are critically under prepared. What you would give for 10 minutes to warm up, hit some balls, and stretch a little.
Organising Your body and mind:
Here’s how a top performer often structures their own warm up;
- Some visualisation of the movements and goals of the exercise/game they are about to participate in.
- Deep breathing drills in which a good relaxed state internally is established.
- Dynamic warm up drills, which often pay attention to hamstring, glutes, the core and the groin muscles. A dynamic warm up can be thought of as a very light or slower version of a movement similar to the one you are about to perform.
- Proper pre exercise hydration and nutrition. When exercising in hot climates, this becomes even more prevelant.
After all this exercise, sweat and puffing and panting, not only will your muscles and cardiovascular system be very tired, so too will your nervous system.
Depending on the type of exercise, some or all of these systems will need a refractory (rest) period in which to recover so that they may live to fight another day. This is where a good cool down routine can help.
As with a warm up, putting your own personal spin on your cool down routine is important. Most good cool down routines will place a high degree of importance on calming the stressed nervous system back down to a normal level. Think of your nervous system as having an accelerator and a brake. By possessing these two points of control, you can precisely control your nervous system. You can ramp it up when you are about to do hard exercise, and you can calm it back down when you are finished your exercise, or during parts of exercise when you don’t need it to be fired up. Think of a tennis player serenely picking at the strings of his or her racquet between points. This is a tennis players way of calming the nervous system down when it’s not required.
Calming the nervous system down can be down most effectively with some more deep breathing, some foam rolling (if you have a foam roller), some light stretching, a recovery walk or swim, and some good quality nutrition and hydration.
Developing a reliable warm up and cool down routine is very important as a trigger to great performance whilst exercising and also reducing your chance of injury. So go on, put the glory of arduous exercise on hold for a few minutes, and get yourself a great warm up first. And cool down.