Warm-Ups Are Critical!
Someone wrote to me recently asking why she should have to join her team for warm-ups. “I get lots of exercise at work,” she said, “I hurt myself once during warm-ups, too, and I’m not going to chance it again.”
I confess she hit a sore spot, because I recall being irritated when people on my team refused to participate in warm-ups. I knew I needed to be deal with it, but never quite got around to it. In truth, I really didn’t see it as my job to look after warm-ups and cool-downs.
Workshops required for Dragon Boat Canada L1 coaching certification showed me why I was wrong – it’s the Coach’s responsibility to make sure all the athletes participate: If they won’t do the warm-up, they don’t get on the boat.
There are two reasons for that, both of them important.
First, the purpose of the warm-up, as explained here;
A warm up is the act of preparing for an athletic event or workout by exercising or practicing for a short time beforehand. Warming up helps reduce your risk of injury and the aches and pains that come with exercise. The physiological reason to warm up is to assist your circulatory system in pumping oxygen-rich blood to your working muscles. The idea is to increase circulation throughout the body in a gradual manner. A proper warm up safely prepares the body for the increased demands of exercise. Cold muscles do not absorb shock or impact as well, and are more susceptible to injury.A warm-up helps you prepare both mentally and physically for exercise and reduces the chance of injury. During a warm up, any injury or illness you have can often be recognized, and further injury prevented. Other benefits of a proper warm up include:
- Increased movement of blood through your tissues, making the muscles more pliable.
- Increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. This prevents you from getting out of breath early or too easily.
- Prepares your muscles for stretching
- Prepares your heart for an increase in activity, preventing a rapid increase in blood pressure
- Prepares you mentally for the upcoming exercise
- Primes your nerve-to-muscle pathways to be ready for exercise
- Improved coordination and reaction times
If that doesn’t convince you of the pressing need for proper warm-up before paddling, perhaps this will:
In a representative study published last year in The Journal of Human Kinetics, a group of 36 active adults undertook a strenuous, one-time program of forward lunges while holding barbells, an exercise almost guaranteed to make untrained people extremely sore the next day. Some of the volunteers warmed up beforehand by pedaling a stationary bicycle at a very gentle pace for 20 minutes. Others didn’t warm up but cooled down after the exercise with the same 20 minutes of easy cycling. The rest just lunged, neither warming up nor cooling down.
The next day, all of the volunteers submitted to a pain threshold test, in which their muscles were prodded until they reported discomfort. The volunteers who’d warmed up before exercising had the highest pain threshold, meaning their muscles were relatively pain-free.
As you can see, when the Coach asks the team to warm-up, he (or she) isn’t doing it just to annoy his athletes – he’s doing it to prepare their bodies and minds for what’s ahead. He’s also doing it to reduce the chance of injury, and the Journal of Human Kinetics study demonstrates why he’s right.
“Why bother?” you ask. The answer is simple: Your Coach is legally responsible for your well-being, even if neither you nor the Coach know it.
As I explained in “Coaches Duty of Care,” your coach is legally responsible for what happens on the boat, even if he or she isn’t aware of it (and most aren’t, in my experience).
Why should you join in with the team during warm-ups? Because your Coach asked you to for your own good and that of the team, and because he or she is legally responsible for you.
That’s why I advise coaches to include the following item in their buy-in (their “rules of the road,” if you will): Warm-up and cool-down are mandatory – if you don’t do them, you don’t paddle.
Speaking for my curmudgeonly old self, any athlete who refuses to do warm-ups and cool-downs is disrespecting the coach, the team, and himself or herself. While the evidence supporting cool-downs isn’t nearly as strong, it’s still a good idea to give your heart an opportunity to slow down if nothing else. Here’s a brief bit from Wikipedia on the subject:
During aerobic exercise, peripheral veins, particularly those within muscle, dilate to accommodate the increased blood flow through exercising muscle. The skeletal-muscle pump assists in returning blood to the heart and maintaining cardiac output. A sudden cessation of strenuous exercise may cause blood to pool in peripheral dilated veins and the heart must beat faster and harder to adequately oxygenate the body and maintain blood pressure. A cool-down period allows a more gradual return to venous tone, and allows a gradual decline in heart rate that reduces stress on the organ.
UPDATE: I want to share a few of the comments I have received via email. The senders’ identification has been removed to respect their privacy:
This is an excellent article. All paddlers should be required to warm or should not be allowed on the boat. Our team has at least three paddlers who refuse to do warm-ups, some who use injury as an excuse. If you cannot do warm-ups you should not get on the boat and this should be a mandatory rule of [the club] to protect the club and the coaches.
This comment raises a great point – shouldn’t clubs make an effort to understand the legal and physical issues and act upon them by issuing some mandatory directives? The next comment addresses the same issue, but from an entirely different tack:
…often the person leading the warm-up is inexperienced and it is important for crew members to modify the warm-up so as not to injure themselves. eg. It is known that stretching is NOT a good form of warmup but yet I’ve often seen that done by the person in charge of the warm up. Jumping Jacks can cause injury to some people. They need to do a modification, but they need to do a warmup.
Two good points here: First, a lot of paddlers leading warm-up and cool-down drills don’t really understand what they are doing – again, this is an area where clubs can (and should, in my opinion) take charge and provide direction. Second, static (stretching) exercises have no place in warm-up drills, which should be completely dynamic in nature. Save the static drills for cool-down.
A classic static drill
Good dynamic drill (Prevailing Wins)
In the first example (also Prevailing Wins), the paddlers are stretching, using their paddles as support – this is a static drill which is ideal for cool-down. In the second photo, the paddlers are swinging their paddles – in other words, a dynamic drill involving a lot of movement – a great warm-up drill.
One paddler wrote that she knew her own body, by way of suggesting that the paddler knew better than the coach with respect to how to prepare an athlete for demanding exercise. Whether or not an athlete thinks he or she knows their body has no bearing on the coach’s understanding of the need to oxygenate the blood to prepare for a strenuous workout. In the end, as one of my favorite coaches is wont to say, “There’s only one coach in the boat.”
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