This week’s Blog comes from APA coach Fabrizio Garguilo all about warming-up and cooling down.
It has been well established in the sports and fitness industry that a warm up should precede strenuous physical exercise, typically a light jog to stimulate some blood flood and some stretches to ‘loosen up’. However more recently advances in physical preparation for strenuous exercise have been made to include; injury prevention, muscle activation, joint mobilisation and stabilisation exercises, as well as a shift in focus towards sport specific movements in competitive athletes. These great improvements will be discussed further in this blog along with methods and rationale for appropriate ‘cooling down’ exercises, which appear to still be a neglected area of strength and conditioning but could actually act as a fantastic preventative, educational and recovery enhancing time if used correctly.
Warm ups have been around for several decades, originally a light jog on lap of the field followed by some static stretches was prescribed by coaches from the school PE teacher level to international athletes. However thankfully nowadays we have sports science to help guide coaches towards far more appropriate warm ups. The aim of a warm up is to prepare the body for competition, strenuous activity or in ancient times combat. Modern research has led to the development of protocols such as the RAMP method. This warm up consists of Raising the pulse, Activating the muscles, Mobilising the joints and Potentiating movement all in preparation for competition.
Examples of exercises that can be used to raise the pulse are; skipping – at APA we have devised a challenge that encompasses as many skips as possible in a minute, followed by the challenge of completing half the number of skips you got in a minute in a 30 second blast, with target scores of 200 and 100 respectively. Classically running can be used, however I prefer to encourage other exercises such as ice-skaters, side shuffles, low-knee skips and hop-scotch into the early part of the warm up. Activation exercises such as band rows and external rotation of the shoulder are good examples of upper body exercises and glute bridges, band walks and lunges are good lower body activators – main muscle group targeted is typically the glutes. Mobilisation can take the form of exercises designed to increase the athletes’ range at a joint, such as deep squats, overhead squats, single leg squats, spiderman or caterpillar crawls. Finally potentiating movements should mimic the movements that will constitute the performance of the sport. For example pass and move in football, racket swings in tennis, lay up shots in basketball, all can be made into small drills building in intensity towards the start of the match or training session.
Joint mobilisation vs muscle stretching:
This is an example of a joint mobilisation warm up, all the stretches are dynamic and there is a flow between exercises to increase blood flow and mobility of the connective fascia. Simple muscle stretching can also be beneficial depending on the sport and need of each athlete. There are also various other forms of stretching such as foam rolling, assisted stretching using a partner or apparatus as shown here can also be beneficial.
Although typically static stretching is reserved for post-exercise, if the athlete needs to increase their range of motion because they are particularly stiff or tight, it can be used as part of a warming up process.
The aim of the cool down process – the other end of your bookends on your workout – is to restore the body back to its pre-exercise state and to assist in recovery from strenuous exercise. There are many methods that can be used, typically static stretching is most commonplace, however the recent additions to many gyms of foam rollers, bands and balls that can be used for post-exercise cool downs has improved the general perception of finishing off a workout with a 5-10 minute period of focussed exercise. Alongside stretching, rolling and bringing body temperature and heart rate back to normal resting levels, athletes can maximise the efficiency of their recovery by showering – to remove waste products excreted as sweat from the skin, maximising the ‘open window’ of replacing nutrients within 2 hours post-exercise and ensuring this fulfils the needs of the body – a recovery meal should be high in carbohydrate, protein and vitamins and minerals, but also low in fat to replenish used stores within the body. Another important factor that most amateur athletes will struggle to accomplish because they live working lives is to physically rest between training or competing. To lay down with flat or elevated feet and even to mentally relax can help with the feeling of being recovered. This is particularly poignant in travelling athletes, where added stress of travel in confined spaces can increase stress on the body. If you are presented with an opportunity to rest, that is exactly what you should do.
Kit every athlete should carry in their bag to help – tennis ball, golf ball, hockey ball, foam roller – all for self Myofascial massage. Water bottle – to keep hydrated, supplements – protein, meal replacement, vitamins if on long distance travel. Resistance bands, can be used for stretching and activation exercises.
In summary, tagging 10 minutes onto each end of your workout can have a significant effect on your health, flexibility, injury prevention, state of readiness and ultimately performance. It is something well worth doing and why most athletes’ gym sessions last closer to 90 minutes than 60.