When it's time for practice or a game, your first inclination should be to warm up. But know that warming up requires a lot more than just stretching. The goals are to raise your core temperature (your body's internal thermostat); actively elongate your muscles; activate your nervous system, proprioceptors and stabilizers; improve kinesthetic awareness (your body's position in space); and rehearse (or walk through) techniques that will help you in your sport.
A proper warm-up has three phases:
• Dynamic Warm-Up
• Dynamic Stretching
• Sport-specific activity
A Dynamic Warm-Up involves movements that start slowly with small range of motion and progress to large, fast movements. (Need a routine to get started? Here's a Dynamic Warm-Up you can perform anywhere.)
Dynamic Stretching incorporates strength, flexibility and balance with the movements. Stance, speed and range of motion can be tailored to reflect your capabilities and achieve your individual goals.
Many folks confuse dynamic stretching with ballistic stretching (bouncing when you stretch). Dynamic stretching consists of controlled joint movements that take you to the limits of your range of motion. Ballistic stretches force a part of the body beyond its range of motion.
Resist the temptation to substitute static stretching for dynamic stretching. In static stretching, you elongate a muscle or group of muscles as far as possible, then hold that position for 20-30 seconds—like touching (or trying to touch) your toes and holding. But here's a shocker: studies show that static stretching may actually decrease the force production of a muscle. Nevertheless, it can be effective, and it does have a place in your training program—just not as part of your pre-game warm-up.
The key is knowing when to static stretch to increase range of motion, and when not to because it will hinder movement and performance. Your coach or trainer can help you with this by designing a warm-up and flexibility program that suits your goals, capabilities and level of performance.
After you've dynamically warmed up and dynamically stretched, get to work on your sport skills: take batting practice, shoot foul shots or play catch with the football.
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