Many changes have occurred in the way athletes warm up and stretch before competing. The biggest area of change has been around static stretching before participation. Studies have shown that static stretching prior to competition has few, if any, advantages and may in fact lead to a drop in performance in sports where power strength and speed are essential.
Until recently, static stretching, where you hold a stretch for up to 30 seconds, had been recommended for various muscle groups specific to your sport prior to performing. The recommendations now are for a more active or Dynamic Warm Up. The parts of a Dynamic Warm Up can be represented by the acronym RAMP.
Raise your Heart Rate and elevate your temperature. This may be anything from light jogging, skipping, bike ergometer, jumping jacks for 3-5 mins.
Activate the specific muscles important to your sport i.e in football, netball, basketball activate your quadriceps with some lunges and squats, in tennis and swimming activate your shoulders with some resistance band exercises.
Mobilise – move your joints through the range of motion required in your sport. In hockey and soccer, mobilise your hips for sprinting and change of direction with some leg swings. In swimming, mobilise your shoulders with arm swings.
Potentiate – lift your activity to near maximum intensity so you are ready to train and compete. In rugby perform some near maximal run throughs or bounding.
Sports like Australian Rules Football, Soccer and Netball where there are high incidences of ACL injuries now have their own specific dynamic warm up programs that follow the RAMP acronym and should be ideally done before each training and game.
For all other sports such as swimming, tennis, hockey, martial arts that don’t have a specific injury prevention warm try integrating the RAMP principles into your warm up. Remember a good warm not only decreases your risk of injury but has been shown to elevate performance levels.
Finally, just to note there is nothing wrong with static stretching and in the case of 95% of the population we can all do with some more of it. However the best time to perform your static stretching routine is not directly prior to performing in your sport but either in your warm down or as an independent activity.