Before any kind of strenuous physical activity, it’s important to ensure that the body is properly warmed-up. Whilst the vast majority of people will be familiar with this advice, there is often a lack of understanding as to precisely why the warm-up is so vital, and how to go about structuring one correctly. There is also often a particular misunderstanding of the value of ‘stretching’ as part of any warm-up regime before sport/exercise.
In today’s blog article SquashSkills examine these areas in more depth, and provide a little more info and guidance as to what exactly constitutes an appropriate warm-up for such an extremely demanding sport as squash.
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The goal of any warm-up is to physically (and mentally) prepare the athlete for the training or competition ahead. A properly designed graduated warm-up will raise the body temperature and increase blood flow to the working muscles, resulting in the following positive impacts on performance (Courtesy of the National Strength & Conditioning Association):
Faster contraction/relaxation of muscles
Improvements in rate of force development, and reaction time
Improvements in muscle strength and power
Lowered viscous resistance in muscles
Improved oxygen transportation and delivery
Enhanced metabolic reactions
Reduced risk of injury due to increased muscle temperature
Note that these enhancements come from a warm-up in the form of a steady build-up of multi-directional movements and light aerobic activity, which increase heart rate/blood flow/respiratory rate/muscle temperature. These benefits do NOT come from just ‘static stretching’, which many people mistake for an appropriate warm-up.
Standard static stretching can be useful in some circumstances for affecting joint flexibility, particularly as part of a physio guided rehab programme, but has little beneficial effect as part of a standard warm-up and will not have all the same favourable physiological effects as detailed above.
There is often a mistaken belief that static stretching as part of a warm-up will help prevent injury, by ‘loosening’ tight tissues. While evidence suggests that the raising of the body’s temperature through light graduated aerobic activity can be beneficial for injury prevention in some situations (due to the increased resistance to muscle tears in warmer tissues), there is actually very little research supporting standard static stretching carried out before exercise having any effect on injury frequency. Indeed, it has been shown by some researchers that excessive static stretching as part of a warm-up may actually REDUCE performance, due to reductions in muscle force production and power.
What IS important as part of an appropriate warm-up for an intensive sport such as squash however, is increasing mobility and functional range of motion in the joints. ‘Dynamic Stretching’, where muscles are taken through a controlled yet active range of motion, and then gradually increased as core temperature rises and joint fluid viscosity is decreased, has been shown to be the best way to increase sports-specific mobility in preparation for optimal performance. Movements such as controlled leg swings, lunges, hip circles, and knee raises are great for this purpose.
So what exactly should a suitable warm-up for squash consist of, and in what order? To cover all of the appropriate areas of raising temperature, increasing mobility, and optimising the body and mind for training/competition, a warm-up should consist of 3 parts lasting around 5 minutes each:
1) Initial Pulse-Raiser (Raise body temperature and heart rate)
e.g. Light jogging, heel flicks, sidesteps, skipping
2) Dynamic Flexibility & Muscle Activation (Increase joint range of motion and engage key muscles)
e.g. Controlled leg swings, knee thrusts, deep lunges
3) Secondary/Specific Pulse-Raiser (Raise heart rate and prep body for tempo of session)
e.g. Ghosting, court sprints, tuck jumps, shuttles
These areas follow and complement each other organically – starting with some light movement to warm the muscles and increase the heart rate, then increasing the range of motion and activation in the now warmed and prepared muscles, before finishing with some higher intensity specific movements (that won’t place excessive strain on the joints now they have been properly readied for full activity).
You can check out a sample dynamic warm-up video here on the site, that shows these areas in more detail and shows the 3 stage warm-up in action in a format specific to squash. As the video points out, these 3 stages can be adapted to both the specifics of the session you’re about to take part in, and to the inherent unique variances in regards to exactly how much time and intensity you personally need to spend on the warm-up, to really optimise your own individual performance.