The right way to warm up: go neuromuscular
The best way to warm up before exercise is a pretty controversial topic. Most people still think of stretching as the best thing to do — despite the fact that plenty of research suggests it’s among the worst pre-exercise options. Researchers these days are advocating a “dynamic” or “neuromuscular” warm-up that starts with very gentle cardio exercise and progresses to increasingly specific use of the muscles and motions that your workout will involve.
I recently noticed a study by some Finnish researchers, due to appear in an upcoming issue of the British Journal of Sports Medicine, in which they study the effect of a neuromuscular warm-up program on “floorball” players. (Search me, I’d never heard of it either. Apparently it’s “a fast and intensive indoor team sport that is played on a court (20x40m) surrounded by a low board.”)
The neuromuscular warm-up programme consisted of four different types of exercises: 1) running technique exercises, 2) balance and body control exercises, 3) jumping exercises, and 4) strengthening exercises to the lower limbs and trunk. The neuromuscular training was carried out like a warm-up session just before floorball exercises, with low-to-moderate intensity for each exercise type. One warm-up session lasted 20-30 minutes, each exercise type taking about five to seven minutes.
So no stretching, just a series of drills that mimic the movements and use the muscles required in floorball. A companion study had already found that, after six months of this warm-up program, the 119 players using it had fewer lower-leg injuries compared to the 103 controls who were just doing their usual warm-up. This study followed that up by showing that the group doing the new warm-up was also better at jumping over a bar (power) and standing on a bar (balance).
Unless you’re a floorball player, the precise details of the warm-up routine probably aren’t that important. But it is interesting to note that this approach produced measurable good results — something that pre-exercise stretching has repeatedly failed to do. I think this is an important topic, so I’ll keep my eyes out for good warm-up studies that may be more applicable to sports I’ve actually heard of. (If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.)