Sunday, June 26, 2011

Warming-Up: Too Much vs. Not Enough

The pre-game warm-up is one of the more contentious issues in high level athletics. A recently published article in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that power performance may be best served by a shorter, lower-intensity warm-up routine (Tomaras & MacIntosh, 2011). The researchers compared sprint cyclists performing two warm-up routines: (1) A 50 minute routine, progressing from 60-95% HRmax and ending with four sprints; and (2) A 15 minute routine, ranging from 60-70% HRmax, and ending with a single sprint. The researchers found that the shorter warm-up resulted in significantly less muscle fatigue and a higher peak power output.

Sprint cyclists and baseball players are different in countless ways. However, the researchers were effective in demonstrating that warm-up efficiency and recovery are important consideration for coaches before a game. Here are a few strategies for warming-up your position players, to prevent injuries, optimize performance, and prevent excessive fatigue.

Keep Players Moving:

Warm-up routines are not to be confused with static stretching routines for improving flexibility. Most of the benefits of a good warm-up (i.e. ↑ contraction speeds, ↑ movement economy, ↑ oxygen utilization, ↑ neuromuscular transmission, and ↑ muscle metabolism), derive from increasing the body’s heart rate, blood flow, and temperature of the muscles. The dynamic, or moving, portion of the warm-up (i.e. jogging, shuffling, carioca, squatting, lunging, arm circles, etc.) should make up the majority of the time allotted.

Keep Players On Their Feet:

Unless you are warming up a wrestling team, transitioning the team from standing, to sitting, to prone, and back to standing again takes up valuable time that players could be performing more sport-specific exercises. Baseball-specific exercises, including running mechanics drills, cross-over starts, torso twisting, and throwing, should be performed to facilitate the motor unit recruitment needed for maximal game performance. With the exception of sliding, baseball is always performed on your feet!

Progress Simple to Complex, Slow to Fast:

Warm-up routines should be progressed from smaller and slower, less taxing, movements, to more complex, faster, movements to ensure the safety of each exercise being performed. After a general warm-up, closed-chain dynamic flexibility exercises are most effective in reducing muscle stiffness while requiring the muscles to remain active in supporting the weight and posture of the body. Plyometric exercises (i.e. skipping, bounding, jumping, throwing, and swinging) should be performed towards the end of the warm-up to ensure that the muscles have been activated properly to sustain the eccentric stresses of decelerating the body.

Begin 30 Minutes Before The Game:

This amount of time allows for a general and dynamic warm-up to be completed with a coach in the first 8-10 minutes, throwing and sprint work in the middle 10-12 minutes, and individual preparation (i.e. extra stretching, mental focusing, etc.) in the 10 minutes leading up to the game. Not all athletes have the same weaknesses and imbalances. Nor do all athletes require the same level of muscle activation to perform optimally or injury free. Allowing a few extra minutes for players to mentally focus on the game ahead, get a drink, or relax is often overlooked when putting together the pre-game schedule.

Keep 3 Goals In Mind:

In professional baseball, most players have been active much of the day prior to the game. As long as players (1) Break a sweat by getting their heart rate up, (2) Alleviate any tightness in the hips, torso, and shoulders, and (3) Progress to game speed running, throwing, and swinging, they are likely doing enough to prepare the body.

Quality Not Quantity:

Focusing on dynamic, multi-joint, and baseball-specific movements can improve the quality of a pre-game warm-up. Excessively long or fatiguing warm-up routines should be avoided to promote season-long success.

Cited Source:
Tomaras, E. K. and MacIntosh, B. R. (May 2011). Less is More: Standard Warm-up Causes Fatigue and Less Warm-up Permits Greater Cycling Power Output. Journal of Applied Physiology, Published online ahead of print, link: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00253.2011.

Eric McMahon, M.Ed., CSCS
Minor League Strength and Conditioning Coach
Texas Rangers

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