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Like most people you probably do not pay a lot of care or attention to your warm up before exercising. A bit of walk to the front gate before your run or a few arm circles and swings then into the weights session or game of golf/squash or tennis!
One of the areas I put a lot of work into in designing programs for Olympic athletes is in the warm up. Often, I’ll put as much thinking into the first part of the exercise session as the main block of the training session. Every warm up is targeted and individual to both the athletes and the session.
A major part of an effective warm up is dynamic stretching. The aim is to lengthen and warm the muscles, but not with the typical static stretch (where you hold a position for 5 or more seconds). Dynamic stretching is a better way of getting ready for exercise than static stretching because it gets the muscles primed for the movements to come.
You should complete some movement at every major joint before training - shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.
Why do we out so much emphasis on this part of the warm up? Research conducted by the University of Wyoming and published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in June 2008 strongly supports its use. The researchers wanted to examine the effect of the warm-up over a 4 week training program of 24 high level college athletes.
(Take note of the short time frame - only 4 weeks to see if it worked. I wonder if that was long enough to have a significant impact…?)
They divided the group into two. The groups used either static or dynamic stretching before daily practice sessions and measures were made before and after the 4 week period.
After 4 weeks, the static group had no improvements and some decreases in key performance factors. Remember, this is the traditional stretching method you may be doing currently.
The dynamic group showed some significant improvements in performance:
These are impressive results in a short time frame - achieved just by focusing on a more comprehensive warm up!
So if you could incorporate dynamic warm ups into your current training before sessions, it could produce long term improvements in Power, Strength, Muscular Endurance, Anaerobic capacity and Agility. Improve any of these factors you will be stronger, fitter and able to continue to increase the intensity of your training to get closer to your training goals - whether they be health, fitness or sporting goals.
This video features a good bundle of dynamic warm-up exercises for field-type sports
It’s so easy to say sleep is crucial in the restorative process. But how much sleep do athletes really need?
As the levels of physical and mental stress increase so does the amount of sleep we need. I was working with an athlete who competed at the last 4 Olympics and is now more or less retired - he reckons he can easily sleep some 2 hours less each night now he’s not training as hard.
However, sleep seems to be the first thing to suffer with athletes needing to combine training with study and/or work. Late nights followed by poor quality sleep and early starts will clearly hurt training quality.
Sleep can impact performance in three main ways:
1. Lost sleep reduces the performance of the cerebral cortex in the frontal lobe of the brain which is responsible for the most important mental functions in sport- focus, concentration, flexibility, decision making and information processing.
2. The very deep or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep helps consolidate activities, tasks and skills undertaken that day. It is indispensable for helping motor learning and skill acquisition.
3. Sleep is a significant stimulator of growth hormone release - the body’s natural agent for cell growth and reproduction. In addition to acting to increase muscle mass, growth hormone also stimulates the immune system. Sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone Cortisol which may interfere with tissue repair and growth.
1. Have a regular wake up time and go to bed time each day. The body loves consistency and your internal body clock will be set around this regular patterning. It’s best to follow this pattern through weekends too, so as to reduce disruption to your body clock.
2. Avoid coffee, alcohol and other stimulants prior to heading to bed. Aim to reduce stimulant intake after 4-6 pm.
3. Try to avoid high intensity exercise and large meals after 7:30pm (assuming bed time of 10pm).
4. Create quiet time before bed. The aim is to reduce stressors and stimulators to allow the mind time to wind down. Just as we do with small children, you might like to create a bed time ritual to allow sleep fullness to grow. Also, limit exposure to loud music, bright lights, computers and work related stress just before bed.
5. Your sleep environment is important so aim for a quiet dark bedroom with a cool temperature. Get the best quality linen, mattress and pillow possible. Consider taking your own linen and pillow when traveling
6. Some say that if you are not asleep in 30 minutes then get out of bed, read or undertake another quiet activity and return to bed when drowsy. Try it and see if it works; otherwise, just lay there quietly and rest - you can’t force sleep but if you’re relaxed and peaceful you’ll rest nicely and likely go to sleep. (My friends at Sports Mind Skills may be able to help if you’re having consistent trouble getting to sleep with their Sleeping Better for Sport MP3 download).
7. Do not nap within 1-3 hours of bed time. If you do nap in the day then aim for 20-40 minutes around lunch time.
Many would say as much as possible! However, we don’t all have that luxury.
It’s worthwhile taking note of an ongoing study which suggests that athletes who get an extra amount of sleep are more likely to have better performance, mood, and alertness.
These findings spring from an albeit small investigation involving five students on the Stanford University men’s and women’s swimming teams.
The participants maintained their usual sleep-wake pattern for the first two weeks of the study, and then extended their sleep to 10 hours per day for six to seven weeks.
With extra sleep the athletes swam a 15-meter meter sprint 0.51s faster, reacted 0.15s quicker off the blocks, improved turn time by 0.10s, and increased kick strokes by 5.0 kicks.
Researcher Cheri Mah of the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Laboratory said “Typically, many athletes accumulate a large sleep debt by not obtaining their individual sleep requirement each night, which can have detrimental effects on cognitive function, mood, and reaction time. These negative effects can be minimized or eliminated by prioritizing sleep in general and, more specifically, obtaining extra sleep to reduce one’s sleep debt.”
“It is interesting to note that many of the athletes in the various sports I have worked with, including the swimmers in this study, have set multiple new personal records and season best times, as well as broken long-standing Stanford and American records while participating in this study,” Mah said.
The findings led Mah to recommend that athletes make sleep a part of the training program, aiming for 8+ hours most of the time. Also, athletes should extend nightly sleep for several weeks before competition to reduce sleep debt.
Maybe it’s time for coaches to consider slumber parties rather than 6 a.m. practices!