Oct 2016 15

Winter warmer

By: Dave Wheeler

Have you noticed how quickly the weather's changed?

Over the last couple of weeks the leaves have started turning, there's a nip in the air, and it's definitely getting darker earlier.

Every year at about this time, I notice a spike in injuries: in the last fortnight I've had an assortment of clients with a Glute strain, a hamstring strain, a groin strain, a calf strain and a quad strain.

In each case the reason for the injury has been the same: no time, or not enough time, given over to warming up before sport. The result is a muscle tear - a strain - 


The best way to warm up

Warming up your muscles for exercise is always important, never more so than in colder weather. The muscles that we use in one sport though, can be very different to the muscles used in another. A squash player trying to warm up on a cold court will use a whole bunch of different muscles to the runner out on the Letchworth Greenway.

The best warm up for your particular sport is a light version of that sport. So if you're playing squash, play gentle rallies for a few minutes before adding in more movement, arm swing and aggression.

If you're a runner, jog; if you're  a swimmer, do several slow lengths of the pool; if you're a gym-rat do bar-only exercises.

Your body takes around 6 minutes to fully warm up from the inside out - so you need to be very gradually increasing the tempo of your warm from from 0 to max over that 6 minutes. 

If you want to be bullet proof in your warm up, add a little bit of dynamic stretching at the end of your warm up.

The biggest mistake we make (and here runners and cyclists are amongst the worst culprits) is that we get bored after 2 minutes of warm up and then go for it at full pelt. That's asking for trouble.

I know it can be a pain in the proverbial - 6 minutes can seem a long time to have to warm up for, but the pain of a muscle strain is far worse.


The consequences of not warming up

If you get a muscle strain, it's probably going to mean that you're off exercise for a while. How long depends on the severity of the tear - it could be anything from a week to several months depending on the amount of damage that you do.

As if that's not bad enough, you're probably going to need to get some help to get the muscle  tear fixed. 

When muscles tear, the body immediately starts repairing by laying down hard collagen fibres across the damaged muscle fibres. Within 48 hours, that lattice-work of collagen has set hard. Because collagen is inflexible, the muscle can no longer operate along its full range of movement. Basically, you've got scar tissue running across the muscle.

The treatment for that  is to break down the scar tissue. Your friendly, helpful, smiling remedial massage therapist will brutally break down the scar tissue causing you to swear  a lot at the agony of it all. Only then, can the therapist begin to try to re-align fibres and restore almost full muscle usage.

So the consequences of  not warming up are pain, no sport, and more pain.


The benefits of warming up before sport

Apart from the obvious benefit of not having inflict unusually high levels of pain on you to fix the strain, the benefits of warming up for at least 6 minutes are:

  1. As you warm up cardio-vascularly, more oxygen gets pumped into the muscles preparing them to work hard
  2. The elasticity of the muscles increases, reducing the likelihood of a tear
  3. Lactic acid is dispersed
  4. The  joints (more accurately the synovial fluid within the joints) are warmed up, again giving greater range of motion
  5. Increased force and speed of muscle contraction (i.e. more power)

So warming up really is worth it: from both the carrot and stick perspectives.


If you are unlikely enough, though, to suffer from a muscle tear - your friendly, helpful, smiling, brutal massage therapist is only a phone call away :)