I recently had the opportunity to watch a great high school football rivalry game -- and, if you know anything about Texas, football is KING -- in which the underdog upset the nationally recognized football powerhouse. As surprising as the final outcome was, what caught my attention and reaffirmed my training beliefs was the halftime warm-up.
After an extended halftime that permitted the players to sit around and stiffen up, the underdogs came out started out with some marching, progressed to jogging, then finished with 5-10 yard sprints, backpedals, and lateral sprints.
The favorites began their more conventional warm-up by sitting on the ground holding a 30 second hamstring stretch, then some seated butterfly, followed by the Hollywood stretch and a finally a sidelying quad. Watching this, I couldn't help but wonder if the favored team's halftime routine had done anything beside put them and their neuromuscular systems to sleep.
Maybe not surprisingly, the underdogs jumped all over the favorites in the first five minutes with a big kick return followed by a relatively easy score. As the game wore on, the favorites got close but couldn't recover from the initial onslaught and ended up getting beaten by a touchdown. Clearly, there were a lot of factors that affected the outcome of the game, but as a performance specialist I think you've got to at least ask yourself if you could have done any more with the time available. Could the favored team have won that game if they had done a better job getting ready for the second half? My feeling is a resounding yes. If we're looking for any edge we can find, what we choose to do to physically prepare immediately before competition and training is pretty important.
So why do we warm up? Most of us know that a good warm-up increases heart rate, increases blood flow to the working musculature, increases body temperature, and decreases the viscosity of the muscles. Anything that achieves those results is going to be far superior to doing nothing in terms of improving performance and reducing the likelihood of injury. Science tells us that a dynamic movement routine leads to a higher vertical jump, greater strength and power, and faster sprinting times. If we want to truly complete our "movement preparation", though, we'd better take the time to prepare to move.
And it's this latter point -- that we prepare our neuromuscular systems to be most efficient and best prepared to perform -- that requires special attention when composing a movement preparation scheme for an athlete.
When it comes to deciding what to do with an athlete prior to training or competition, there are a couple of factors that deserve consideration:
1. The movements involved in competition. When an athlete competes, what movements does he/she go through? We work with a lot of basketball players, who obviously need to be able to run fast and jump high, but they also must be able to make a lot of hard cuts with a tremendous amount of force and momentum at significant angles, all while reaching the arms in all directions defending, shooting, passing, and rebounding. This requires a considerable amount of mobility in the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine along with an outstanding ability to reduce force and decelerate these powerful movements.
2. The nature of the activity you are preparing for. While the warmup that you go through prior to a practice would likely be similar to that of a game, it may be quite a bit different if you are preparing for a training session.
3. The individual limiting factors of the athlete. Many times an athlete may need to run through a separate series of drills to work on a specific limitation that may hamper their ability to perform or cause a chronic injury to flare up. In a team setting this is pretty difficult to do unless you are able to educate the athlete beforehand on how to address their issues. While it is well beyond the scope of this article to delve into the complexities of each athlete, it is important to remember that one approach won't always work for everyone.
Typically, our movement preparation proceeds in the following manner:
1. Create functional mobility through full range of motion and in all three planes of motion. This includes stretching of the foot, ankle, hip, and thoracic spine in all of the ranges and directions encountered in competition.
2. Integration and assimilation of the increased motion into more dynamic movement patterns. Much like with functional mobility these should prepare the body as a unit for the ranges and directions of movement encountered in competition.
3. The final progression is a transition to movements closer to game speed in which we move the body in space. Using the same principles as in the previous steps we are now able to get up close to game speed and close to game movements.
When we can get our athletes through all three steps, we are confident that they are fully prepared to compete. We also feel that we have greatly reduced their likelihood of injury, especially when the time comes that they are asked to push their body to its threshold on a hard cut or awkward landing. The following is an example of how we might prepare our basketball players for a game, practice, or speed workout.
Sample Basketball Movement Preparation
-Ankle dorsiflexion with opposite knee rotational drives.
Hip/T-Spine Mobility -Anterior hip drive with multidirectional arm reaches
-Posterior hip drives with multidirectional arm reaches
-Single leg squat with multidirectional opposite foot reaches
-Posterior lunge, crossover lunge, rotational crossover lunge
Hip/Thoracic Spine Integration
-Anterior, lateral, rotational lunges with multidirectional reaches
-Crossover in front/crossover behind
-Anterior/posterior wide lateral
-Lateral with crossover in front/crossover behind
Transition -- Shuffles -Lateral shuffle with horizontal arm swing -Lateral shuffle with vertical arm swing -Lateral shuffle s-pattern
Transition -- Pivots -Sagittal plane pivot
-Frontal plane pivot
-Transverse plane pivot
-Pivot leaps in three planes
The take home message is that it is a lot to do, and it should be. It doesn't have to take very long, but it should incorporate a lot of movements in that time. Use the time you have to prepare the body as thoroughly as possible for the demands about to be placed upon it. The result will be a body that performs at the highest efficiency and speed and with the most power output…from the get go! This article is just a sample of the new content added weekly.
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