Sports and health columnist Dr. Anthony G. Alessi on the importance of stretching and warm-ups.
Professional sports teams are often plagued with athletes disabled from muscle injuries. High-level competitive teams employ multiple health care professionals whose sole jobs are to help players avoid injury. Whether athletic trainer, strength and conditioning specialist or performance-enhancement professional, they play a crucial role by ensuring injury-free competition. Utilizing effective warm-up routines and stretching regimens can accomplish this effectively. Most activities involve a natural forward and backward movement. Certain sports such as baseball, basketball, football and tennis employ lateral movements along with quick changes in direction. These atypical actions put tremendous stress on large leg muscles and render them susceptible to tearing. Warm-up and stretching routines should last at least 15 minutes, with an emphasis on the quadriceps, hamstring, groin and calf muscles. Anthony Reyes, a certified athletic trainer for the San Francisco Giants, is currently assigned to the Connecticut Defenders baseball team. He tries to minimize injuries by adequately preparing the players before each game. “A routine will begin with a warm-up of light exercise,” Reyes said, “including an exaggerated high-step walk, or riding a stationary bike, followed by stretching major muscles.” This warm-up improves circulation and allows more efficient stretch. Compliance with a meticulous athletic regimen specifically designed for each athlete during spring training is closely monitored. Marc Nee is a personal trainer and owner of Training With Heart. His clients balance aerobic and weight training workouts. He prefers a motion type of warm-up to loosen muscles and joints before loading the muscle with weight. “Stretching large muscle groups after weight training helps to lengthen the muscle and get rid of lactic acid build-up,” Nee said. When these experts were asked for a recommendation to quickly warm up and stretch the most muscles before beginning a workout, they both agreed that jumping jacks would be the exercise of choice. Isn’t it interesting that despite all we’ve learned over the years about exercise physiology and training, it all boils down to something we learned in elementary school gym class? Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. He is on the medical staff of The William W. Backus Hospital. Contact him at email@example.com.