Your old school stretching routine is just that – OLD. And you most likely socialize with your teammates more effectively during your “warm-up” than actually prepare your body for the demands of the game. It’s time to start moving with a purpose and stop going through the motions.
Many coaches and players still like to “circle up” and static stretch prior to a practice or game. However, static stretching prior to playing or training is not the best way to prepare your body for activity. While static stretching has its benefits for post-game and post-workout recovery, it can inhibit your performance if done prior to activity. Studies have shown that static (or passive) stretching can limit force production during performance, which ultimately lowers power output and explosiveness. Why would we ever want to decrease your ability to be powerful? Obviously, we wouldn’t. So why would coaches have their athletes static stretch as part of a warm-up?
Dynamic Stretching for Baseball
Baseball is a sport built on short bursts of activity incorporating quick, explosive movements. Every player needs to be able to produce force quickly in order to throw harder, run faster, and hit the ball farther. But how can players prime their bodies for these activities and even enhance the ability to produce force? Completing a solid dynamic warm-up can help achieve these goals.
Muscle stiffness plays a vital role in force production. When muscle stiffness decreases, the ability of the muscle to produce force also decreases. Static stretching involves a slow, controlled movement followed by holding a stretch for a prolonged period of time (30-60 seconds). The prolonged hold allows increased lengthening with little resistance from the muscle itself. As the muscle lengthens it relaxes, causing muscle stiffness to decrease and thereby lowering the muscle’s capacity to produce force. And if force production lowers, so does the ability to produce power.
When an athlete incorporates dynamic movements into his warm-up, he places his body under a different stimulus. Instead of holding a particular stretch for 30-60 seconds, the athlete may facilitate a stretch in a muscle for 4-6 seconds followed by a contraction (or shortening) of that muscle. (This is very similar to the way a baseball player moves when throwing a ball or swinging a bat. There is a short stretch followed by a quick contraction to generate an explosive movement.) So not only is active stretching more appropriate to the task-at-hand, but these dynamic movements also increase the potential for great neural activity which results in greater muscle stiffness. And as already discussed, muscle stiffness correlates to force production.
You can try understanding this way. The goal of static stretching is to relax your muscles, while the goal of dynamic stretching is to wake them up. By actively contracting your muscles throughout your warm-up routine you’ll be increasing your body temperature and heart rate as well as increasing blood flow to your muscles. Furthermore, your long-term mobility and flexibility will improve as well.
Incorporating Dynamic Movements into Your Warm-up
Once you grasp the concept of dynamic versus static stretching, it’s time to incorporate some new movements into your warm-up. Try out a few of the following next time you are preparing your body for practice or training:
Reverse Lunge with a Twist
Step back into lunge position with right leg. Twist your torso over your left leg with a slight lean back and right arm in the air. Hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds. Face back forward and repeat on other side and continue for 10 yards.
World’s Greatest Stretch (Spiderman stretch)
Step forward into lunge position with right leg. Place your hands on the ground inside your right foot. Drop you right elbow down toward the ground, keep your back leg straight, and hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds. To continue into next repetition, drop your hips and straighten your torso into a normal lunge position. Step through with your left leg and repeat for 10 yards.
Start in a standing position and then bend at the waist, placing your hands on the ground. Walk your hands forward until you are in a plank position with a solid middle. Perform one push-up. Then, keeping your hands where they are, walk your feet toward your hands while keeping your legs straight. Repeat the movement for 10 yards.
ARMing for Success
Want more information on how to set up your dynamic warm-up prior to a throwing session or practice? Check out ARMing for Success where you will learn a complete dynamic warm-up, 7 essential band exercises for the throwing shoulder, and how to set up your long toss program. You need a game plan when you hit the field, and ARMing for Success will give you the guidance you need. Check it out now!