Whenever you watch sport on TV you will see at least a hand full of athletes getting injured ranging from a sprained ankle, corked thigh, hamstring strain and the list goes on! These are known as soft tissue injuries which can be mostly prevented. Soft tissue injuries involve sprains (over stretching of ligaments), strains (over stretching of muscles) and bruising. Soft tissue injuries can be largely prevented through an adequate warm up prior to commencing activity and a cool-down post-exercise.
The warm up is so called because it involves warming up and preparing specific joints and the body generally, for the extra stress of strenuous physical activity.
The warm-up has three components:
- Low intensity rhythmic activities to gradually increase circulation and increase muscle and body temperature e.g. running a number of slow, relax laps of the oval
- The ‘stretch’ to increase range of movement e.g. knee lifts and butt kicks
- The ‘specific game’ related activity where athletes mimic movements to be performed in the game e.g. kicking drills and shots at goal.
When planning the first part of a warm-up session to increase muscle and body temperature it is important to consider a number of factors such as the duration and intensity of exercise as a warm up will defer amongst sports, for example a football game versus running a 100 m sprint. It is also important to consider the environmental factors as a longer warm up will be required in cooler weather.
Cooling down is a gradual decrease in activity level lasting between 5 – 10 minutes and is important in preventing pooling of the blood in the limbs that can lead to fainting or dizziness. Following exercise, cooling down and stretching improves the recovery of the muscles, heart and other tissues through the removal of waste products.
Stretching is also an important component in an athlete’s training schedule as it decreases the risk of injury by lengthening the muscle and tendon tissue. Research shows that stretching is most beneficial in injury prevention when performed post exercise (i.e. during the cool- down) as the muscles are completely warmed up.
In conclusion in order to decrease the risk of a soft tissue injury during exercise it is important to undertake a 10-15 minute warm up in order to prepare the body for exercise and a 5-10 minute cool-down to slowly bring the body back to its pre-exercise state. Stretching is also an important part of decreasing the risk of injury, this is the most beneficial when performed post-exercise.