It’s October which means we are headed into the playoffs for Major League Baseball. A proper warm-up is critical to enhancing performance and reducing the chance of injury or re-injury. Warming up increases overall flexibility, which is important in a game like baseball that requires players to start, stop and change directions at high speeds. At the same time, there are many periods of rest throughout a game or practice. As a result, players often develop what’s known as selective flexibility, where some muscles of the body are very flexible but others are not. This can predispose them to injury, so flexibility of the entire body is important. Furthermore, flexibility may improve range of motion, enabling players to generate a greater amount of power.
Cooling down after a practice or game is also important. The muscles need to work to release oxygen and remove the waste by-products of exercising.
The following are some tips for warming up your muscles before taking the field and cooling down afterwards. Always consult with a physician before starting an exercise regimen.
Start with an active warm-up such as calisthenics, a light jog or stationary cycling.
1. These activities can help increase your body’s core temperature, heart rate and blood flow to the muscles, tendons and ligaments. In response, your muscles and tendons become more elastic, making it easier for you to stretch safely and increase your overall flexibility.
2. Next, you can move on to stretching. Stretches should be performed before strength and conditioning, practice and, of course, the game competition.
3. Keep your stretching movements slow and smooth. Don’t bounce.
4. Stretches should be held for approximately 15-30 seconds.
5. Stretching should only be performed to the point of minimal discomfort but never into a painful range of motion.
6. After the game or practice, cool down with some exercises like light jogging, arm windmills and neck circles.
7. Finally, stretching should also be performed as part of the cool down following a workout, practice or competition to help reduce the risk of muscle soreness and improve the rate of recovery.
Mickey Levinson is a physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and clinical supervisor of the Thrower’s Program and Overhead Athlete at the James M. Benson Sports Rehabilitation Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. He has served as a physical therapist for the New York Mets Baseball Club and developed The Thrower’s Manual, a manual designed to offer throwing athletes of all ages and skill levels the tools to build good technique and effective injury prevention.