Or How To Improve Performance And Reduce Injuries.
One of our most popular articles is Under-appreciated Traits of Combat Athletes. The big question the article asks: “can you get better, faster, by focusing on traits other athletes neglect?”
The answer is resoundingly, yes! It’s the Pareto Principle in action. Focus on the 20% that will give you the most benefit and you’ll outperform 80% of your competition. Because so few athletes are doing the same, a small improvement in stress coping, for example, should lead to a large gain in your overall development as a bad-ass athlete.
What’s one of the most neglected traits from our list? Injury Prevention.
I have a theory on why this is the case … To be a top athlete, you need supreme confidence. A faith in your destiny to become the best. Think Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Jon Jones and Kyle Dake.
It’s instrumental to becoming a champion, but this type of faith can sometimes be a double-edged sword. It can lead to overtraining, neglecting nagging pains and unconscious assumptions of indestructibility. In the end, it can lead to disastrous injuries.
So, what’s one thing we can do to combat the spectre of injury?
You’d think the first bit of advice I’d give for injury prevention is “make sure you stretch well before every practice and competition”. Well, nope, you’d be wrong! Most modern studies suggest static stretching before exercise is not an injury preventer.
Let me repeat that, because it’s a myth that just won’t die, stretching before exercise does not prevent injuries.
I’m personally not even convinced that flexibility helps prevent injuries. Anecdotally, I have very inflexible shoulders and yet sustained zero shoulder injuries during a long competitive career. On the other hand, I saw many of my friends suffer season-ending shoulder injuries. This was an especially common occurrence among friends with flexible shoulders.
However, flexibility is obviously an important attribute in some sports: gymnastics, hurdling, wrestling to name a few. So I won’t throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. Instead, I’ll ask that we be careful in assuming that more flexibility always equals better results.
Stretching Can Weaken Performance
In fact, excessive flexibility may impair performance in sports where a high degree of flexibility is not required, as Doctor Malachy McHughy found out first hand. The director of research at the Lenox Hill Hospital Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma in Manhattan (whew that’s a mouthful), Dr. McHughy used eleven different test on 100 runners to measure their flexibility. Then, he measured their walking and running efficiency. The results were clear, participants who were the most flexible expended 10 to 12 percent more energy to move at the same speed as compared with those that were the least flexible.
At the same time, there’s no argument in the scientific community – static stretching increases muscle length (a.k.a flexibility). So if: stretching increases flexibility and flexibility (after a point) reduces performance, draw your own conclusion.
In place of stretching, I’d like to suggest dynamic warm ups, meaning using movement instead of static stretching to warm up your muscles and practice the range of motion your sport requires.
One of the first stories I heard about dynamic warm ups, that cemented their superiority in my mind, was that of 2X NCAA champ Stephen Abas warming up with capoeira before his wrestling matches.
Stephen’s an unconventional guy, which oft produces uncommonly good results. At a time when most wrestling warm ups included little more than stretching and drilling wrestling moves, Stephen used a system that warmed all of the body’s muscles and got them used to fluid, explosive movement.
The research agrees with Stephen’s approach.
To avoid decrease in strength and performance that may occur in athletes due to static stretching before competition or activity, dynamic stretching is recommended for warm-up. – Phil Page, PT, PhD, ATC, CSCS, FACSM
.. And so my love of dynamic warm ups has been confirmed.
With this in mind, here are a few dynamic warm up systems I’ve used and can recommend as a quality approach to warming up for any physical activity.
Sport Specific Warmups
You should add sport specific movements to your warm ups. Here’s a few examples, including some wrestling ones from the Flow Athletics YouTube Channel.
The main influence of Ginastica Natural is the ground movements of jiu–jitsu. These ground movements combined with the techniques of stretching, flexibility and breathing of Hatha yoga, natural movements and strength created through using body weight make up Ginastica Natural.
My first encounter with Capoeira was playing Eddie Gordo in Tekken and ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the art. I even convinced a few classmates to film a Capoeira high-school social studies project with me.
Few people know the reason Capoeira looks so much like a dance –
It was practiced by slaves and disguised as a dance in order to prevent its capoeiristas from punishment or execution for learning how to fight and defend themselves, which was forbidden to those who were legally defined as property.
This is not my social studies project:
A Final Suggestion – Warm Up Less
It’s worthwhile to point out that most terrestrial mammals (notable exceptions being tree sloths) can break into a full sprint with no warm up as either prey or predators.
The purpose of your warm up is to raise your body temperature (especially that of the muscles) and prime the body for activity. At the end of the day though, our energy is precious and our muscles lose far more of it through heat generation than through contraction. So, as with all in life, be sure to find a balance. If you spend more time in a training session with rubber bands and running laps than sport specific drilling, you might want to consider whether that energy could be better put to use by engaging in training that will make you a better athlete.
Get my curated report of the 10 best warm up instructionals on YouTube. This downloadable pdf can be saved anywhere on your computer, tablet and phone. And getting to the video is just one click away. No more wasted time searching and browsing.
Sound off: Use the comment section to tell us about your favorite warmups and how you stay injury free.