Warming up is a vital part of exercise, but there are a lot of people who think that this simply involves a quick jog followed by a head-to-toe stretching routine that we learned in secondary school PE. These stretches (that normally consist of holding a muscle in a fixed, stretched position for 15 seconds or more) are now regarded as having absolutely no benefit to the body and could actually hinder your performance. Fitness experts now recommend dynamic stretching to prepare the muscles, tendons and joints for exercise.
Dynamic stretching involves practicing the movements of an exercise in preparation for that exercise. For example, say you are preparing to complete a leg workout in the gym – you would start with a jog to raise your heart rate and body temperature, then you should go through a series of movements that prepare the leg muscles, joints and tendons for a workout. These could be something like a series of leg kicks, jump squats and leg lifts.
Dynamic stretching activates the body’s many mechanisms for movement. Performing specific gestures stimulates the brain to tell muscles and tissue in the area that they should prepare for exercise. This includes increasing blood flow to the area, supplying oxygen and nutrients required for the extra energy required, and improving drainage of impurities and toxins which increases stamina and assists recovery.
Many studies have shown significant improvements in power and flexibility after dynamic stretching.
The stretches themselves must be specific to the exercise routine you are about to complete and a quick search on Google will give you a number of options. The principle is quite simple – imagine the type of movement you are going to perform and exaggerate it, starting with smaller movements then increasing the range of motion with each repetition. Runners World has a very good dynamic stretch routine for pre-running which works the hips and leg muscles. This routine would work as a good base for most sports with some more specific additions, e.g. adding some sumo squats for the groin and hamstrings before football, or adding jump squats and some shoulder circles before basketball.