Play safe this winter: warm up and cool down

Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Play safe this winter: warm up and cool down. Image: Getty

Team sports in New Zealand are one of the main ways people keep fit and active over the winter. Rugby, netball and soccer all draw in good numbers of social and competitive players.

A warm-up is usually a good idea before giving your "110 percent" — but what is a warm-up and what does it do?

The warm-up serves a number of purposes. It directly prepares your body for heavy exercise by:

  • releasing adrenaline
  • increasing your heart rate
  • increasing oxygen transport to your muscles
  • helping lubricate your joints to move more efficiently
  • raising the temperature of your muscles, preparing them for stretching.

The best approach to a basic warm-up is to use the muscle groups involved in the sport you are playing, vigorous enough to bring on a light sweat. Longer warm-ups are sometimes needed in cold conditions or for more demanding or specific exercise. The warm-up also prepares you mentally.

There is still some disagreement about when stretching is needed and what it is useful for. It does increase flexibility but stretching before sports does not necessarily reduce the risk of injury.

A cool-down after sport is just as important as a warm-up. Cooling down helps to strengthen and lengthen muscle fibres, making muscles stronger for next time.

If you find fitting regular exercise into your life a struggle, then time spent on warming up and cooling down can feel like a waste. However, according to the Mayo Clinic in the US, the periods you spend preparing and recovering may be just as important as the exercise itself. Give your body the time it needs to adjust.

Try as you might, however, injuries still can happen. According to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), the most common sports-related injuries are concussion, shoulder injuries, hamstring strains, knee sprains and ankle injuries. And, perhaps not surprisingly, rugby is the sport that results in most ACC claims, with soccer and netball not far behind.

Commonly these injuries are muscle strains and sprains. And for these, the general approach is RICE(D) — rest, ice, compression, elevation (and diagnosis).

Every team, at some point in the season, can struggle with too many players being out with an injury. But "not wanting to let the team down" and turning up to play next week, is one of the things that stops a player making a proper recovery, and increases the risk of the injury turning into a long term problem.

Too many people rush back onto the field or court while not fully recovered. The saying "no pain, no gain" does not apply to injuries. This goes for concussion as much as for other injuries, which are perhaps more painful at the time. Concussion is often trivialised, perhaps because a brain injury often has no visible signs.

Article provided by UBM Medica (NZ) Ltd. For more health information and advice visit and

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