Warm Up

Before training, a thorough warm-up session is vital to minimise the chances of injury . In addition, it will reduce the aches and pain that are often experienced after intense exercise.

Physiologically, the main reason for warming up is to help the circulatory system to start pumping oxygenated blood to where it’s needed most – the muscles. Warming up by starting off slow and gradually increasing the load on the heart, lungs and muscles prepares the body for the intense work that it will soon be asked to perform. Cold muscles are far more susceptible to injury than warm muscles, as they are less flexible and elastic, and therefore less able to soak up the repeated impacts associated with, for example, sprinting.

Warming up also mentally prepares athletes for the exercise that they are about to undertake. It ‘wakes up’ the nerve pathways that lead from the brain to the skeletal muscles, and this results in quicker reflexes and reaction times; vital for team sports like basketball. It does this by stimulating the brain to release the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, in addition to endogenous morphine (endorphins), a potent natural painkiller. This increases tolerance to muscular pain, allowing athletes to push themselves harder.

Finally, warming up thoroughly prepares the muscles for the next stage of a pre-exercise routine: stretching.

 

An often neglected aspect of pre-exercise activity, stretching is as important if not more so than warming up the cardiovascular system (although it should be noted that stretching without first warming up is to be discouraged and will possibly result in a minor injury). While warming up affects the entire body, boosting blood flow to the muscles and other organs, stretching allows athletes to target individual muscle groups. By physically elongating and pulling the muscles to the limit of their elastic range, stretching increases muscle fibers’ and tendons’ resistance to accidental injury, making them more flexible and increasing their comfortable range of movement. This in turn will improve posture, benefitting sporting ability significantly. During strength training such as weightlifting, it is of vital importance to stretch the relevant muscle groups after every set. After putting a set of muscles under a heavy load (whilst bench pressing, for example), the muscles contract and tighten; stretching the fibres out again allows them to relax and return to their original length, not only reducing the chance of injury, but also improving tone, flexibility and appearance.

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