In adult sport, we typically do one thing universally poorly; prepare for play. It is not uncommon for many adults to feel like they don’t “hit their stride” until 15 to 20 minutes into a game/practice; this is because they are effectively “warming up” while playing instead of doing the preparatory work before the first whistle. Being well warmed up often translates into improved performance and reduced risk of injury.
The analogy is often made of a car in the winter. On a cold day, you likely let your car “warm-up” for a few minutes before driving off; we need to do the same for our bodies.
Depending on the activity you are doing, the warm-up may look a little different. At this time of year, a lot of people are hitting the courts for tennis, squash, racquetball and pickle ball; the warm-up suggestions below are most appropriate for these court sports. If you are interested in learning an appropriate warm-up for your activity, consult a physiotherapist.
Preparing to play a court sport should involve doing a dynamic warm-up with three phases over a 15-20 minute period.
Step 1 – Cardiovascular Warm-Up
This phase prepares your heart and lungs for the increased demands in sport. Brisk walking, light jogging and skipping are all ways to increase your cardiovascular demand. You should feel like you are working at a 6-7/10 in terms of exertion but still be able to carry on a conversation (you should not be breathless).
Step 2 – Dynamic Stretching
Sports like tennis require your lower body to respond to the ball position and your upper body to control the racquet in a variety of positions. Dynamic stretching ensures your muscles have adequate flexibility to do this work comfortably; it is done without holding end positions for more than 3-5 seconds and includes movements such as: squat, lunge, rising up on your toes, raising your arms above your head, rotating and bending your torso.
Step 3 – Agility
Court sports involve quick movements, changes in direction and reacting to someone else’s plays. Agility drills (stepping patterns like carioca and side shuffle) or even a gentle rally with your opponent where focusing on moving around the court can “wake up” the neuromuscular systems in your knees and ankles to improve performance and reduce risk of injury. You should also prime your upper body by doing some work at the net.
Taking the time to warm-up before play can improve your comfort, performance and reduce your risk of injury. Be sure to schedule it in to the time you set aside for your sport.