Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Farewell ye olde school stretches

A wellness blog has asked me to provide some (my) insight into a few topics as a retired elite athlete, so here goes. You can find the original here

Warming up and cooling down

The old-school among us would say do your stretches before and after, hold them for 20 seconds etc. etc. With advances in sports science and physiology specifically we have been able to receive some very modern warming-up practises.

 It has been established that if you reach 95% of your maximum heartrate prior to competition (race/game/event) it is much easier to reach that heartrate level in competition, and maintain it – a very important aspect of my sport – water polo. So with this research came practice. Our team physiologists made us abandon our usual 30 minute warm-up including active and static exercises and stretches (the usual – quad, hammie, bicep, tricep, deltoid, lats, necks, thoracic spine etc.) and replace it with a 50 minute blast from hell!! We would wear heartrate monitors around our chests in custom made bikini tops that had a velcro pouch in the back to house a battery pack, so the coaching staff could receive live feedback of our heart rates…in the pool. This way the coaches new if they had to increase our effort, maintain or decrease it. We not only wore these monitors in training sessions, and training games, but in warm-ups for international tournaments. We even wore them in a few international games but realised the threat of injury (through impact of battery pack to spine) outweighed the need of live data.

 So, what did we do to warm-up for a game at the Olympics, a game in our local competition, or a training game?
-        Prior to the set time of team “land” warm-up, I complete my rehab and pre-hab exercises, anything specific to me, my injuries, and some long stretches that make me feel good – often rolling on a foam roller or water polo ball to stretch out my thoracic spine, crucifix stretches (once again for my thoracic), and lat stretches, cos I love them. I would also be trigger happy with my trigger ball (dog ball/cricket ball) at the back of my shoulders, pecs, hip flexors and glutes

-        Land warm-up:

Ø  5-10 minutes of high effort activity – running/star-jumps/burpees/tuck jumps

Ø  5 minutes of quick-hold stretches (5 10 seconds) as you don’t want to relax your muscles – want to get them fired-up

Ø  5 minutes of high effort to get heartrate increased again – running/wrestling

-        Pool warm-up:

Ø  5 minutes swimming, just rolling the arms over and doing what you need to do

Ø  5 minutes hard swimming

Ø  5 minutes passing – warming arm and shoulder up

Ø  5 minutes shooting

Ø  5 minutes sprints

Ø  10 minutes “aerobic power”: this is the very high intensity exercise, which aims to replicate the hardest part of a game. This is usually done in 90 second bursts with 15 seconds rest, and the aim of this is to do it as close as possible to the start of a game

Then we’re ready to roll, at 95% of our maximum heartrate!

Cool-down is a much cruisier story; it consists of approximately 10-20 minutes of swimming. I like cruisy swimming, however some people find lactic is removed from their muscles if they do some sprints in there too. Then it’s a “land” cool down of long hold stretches and yoga poses of at least 30 seconds, for about 10 minutes. Post-game or training rehab is always done outside of cool-down, and often taken 30-40 minute sets.

So as you can see, there’s a bit of science behind the scenes, but as we’re always wanting to improve an extra percent, we must be willing to try new things, and get out of our comfort zone. So farewell ye olde school stretches, hello science!