Hoorah! The show season is starting up again. I have been to a couple of UKA shows so that I could do some training in the ring, particularly so that I could relax Deece into his first experience of competing and could give him lots of reward. It was also lovely to see people that I haven’t seen for a long time and I have had many interesting chats. It’s really good to be getting out to shows again!
Thank you to the lovely people who came up to me to say how much they enjoy reading my blog, what a nice surprise! I have been asked to write something about warming up the human part of the partnership in readiness for stepping into the agility ring, so I have been thinking about that. I have a routine for warming up my dogs, as they obviously have the most athletically testing part of the performance, but I don’t have a warm up routine for myself. Probably partly (OK mostly!) because I’m lazy (for example, at the recent UKA show I was up at 5am and constantly on the move from the time I arrived at the show until the time that I left 8 hours later, apart from sitting down for a 20 minute lunch break, so didn’t feel like expending any more energy!) and partly because I’m self conscious about prancing around where people can see me! As a consequence of not warming up, I have tweaked something. So this is definitely something that is good to think about (and more importantly to action!).
Why is warming up important?
Movement is powered by skeletal muscle contractions. Our muscles are made of bundles of muscle fibres, and in turn these are made up of smaller structures called myofibrils, where the actual contraction occurs. Within myofibrils, there are two types of filaments; actin and myosin. According to the sliding filament theory, when a muscle is activated and movement occurs, these two interlocking filaments grab onto each other and pull like a ratchet system, which causes the myofibril to shorten. This shortening causes muscle contraction. The contraction is powered by calcium ions, an energy source (ATP), and for the contractions to continue beyond a few seconds, oxygen is also required. So the first requirement to efficient movement is to have a good oxygenated blood supply. By the time you reach the start line, ideally your heart should already be pumping, and you should be breathing more deeply, so that your circulatory/cardiovascular/pulmonary systems, muscles and physiology are fully ready to power your sprint round the course. Because it takes five to ten minutes for your body to respond to the demands of moving faster, your warm up should involve enough exertion for at least five to ten minutes beforehand to get to this state of readiness.
Hmmm, I haven’t been doing this – unless the end of the class has been called and I have to charge back to the van to get a dog before I miss my run!
However this is important, because an appropriate warm up should improve performance by:
1. Releasing adrenaline, which:
Increases heart rate to a level appropriate for faster movement
Enables oxygen in the blood to travel with greater speed
Increases blood flow through active tissues as local vascular beds dilate, increases metabolism and muscle temperatures
Increases production of synovial fluid located between the joints to reduce friction allowing joints to move more efficiently
Causes dilation of blood capillaries, and therefore a better blood supply to the muscles
2. Increases muscle temperature
Decreases viscosity of blood
Enables oxygen in the blood to travel with greater speed
Facilitates enzyme activity
Encourages the dissociation of oxygen from haemoglobin facilitating oxygen utilization by warmed muscles
Allows greater economy of movement because of lowered viscous resistance within warmed muscles
Greater extensibility and elasticity of muscle fibres
Increases force and speed of muscle contractions
3. Increases muscle metabolism
Increses supply of energy through breakdown of glycogen
Increases speed of nerve impulse conduction. Facilitated nerve transmission and muscle metabolism at higher temperatures; a specific warm up can facilitate motor unit recruitment required in subsequent all out activity
4. Aids mental preparation
Allows time for you to become mentally focused on the training or competition ahead.
So warming seems like a very good idea, but what happens if you don’t warm up?
Best case scenario - if your body isn’t ready to react to a sudden sprint, it simply won’t be able to respond quickly enough and you won’t be able to run as fast as you potentially can.
More worryingly, ‘cold’ muscle, tendon and ligament is more prone to rip and tear if put under sudden stress (comprehensive warm-up programmes have been found to decrease injuries in soccer and athletics).
What would be a good warm up?
A good warm up should be specific to task. Warming up before competing or sprinting should start with 5 or 10-minutes of jogging. Gentle running will get the blood flowing. This can be followed by dynamic flexibility exercises and some faster running. Current opinion is that static stretches are not a good idea while warming up. Firstly because if you stretch cold muscle, ligament and tendon you could over-stretch it and cause damage, a strain or a tear, secondly because it is not logical to want to have your muscle fibres stretched before you want efficient muscle contractions to power your sprint, and thirdly static stretching for too long can weaken the muscles temporarily. However, stretching all the muscles in this way after exercise is important to help prevent injury, shortening of muscle fibres, and allow greater flexibility and agility in the long term.
Examples of dynamic stretches include:
Swing each arm in a giant circle, maybe five forward rotations and a five backward rotations with each arm.
With your left hand on a wall, stand on your right foot and swing your left leg backward and forward in an exaggerated kicking motion. Complete 10 swings and repeat with the right leg.
High knees – slow and fast
Form drills include a slow motion, exaggerated high knee run. The aim is to concentrate on your running style, to make it efficient, smooth and powerful. Your arms should be moving straight forward and back, not across your body. The knee lift should be a powerful movement getting the knee as high as possible, rising onto the ball of your other foot. Once you have good form try a faster running on the spot with high knee movement.
Heel kicks to bottom
In a fast running style.
Imagine that you are going to sit down, so you are pushing your bottom out and back, and keeping your knees from going too far forward (you do not want them further forward than your toes, this will save your knees).
As mentioned above, it is a good idea to stretch after your run, but while your muscles are still warm. Stretching will aid recovery, keep you muscle fibres long and flexible, and help prevent injury.
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