There are a lot of sports injury prevention tips: using the proper equipment, wearing any necessary protective gear, staying hydrated, and avoiding extreme heat are just a few. Perhaps the most common advice, however, is to warm up before engaging in physical activity.
And for good reason! 'Cold' muscles are much more likely to be injured than 'warm' muscles, making regular stretching extremely important.
That's because blood flow helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to working muscles, which in turn helps them to work more efficiently and be more flexible. When you're inactive, blood flow slows down. As a result, your muscles may not have the same level of performance or endurance as they would if you had been active.
Everyone from young athletes playing collegiate sports to beginners buying their first pair of running shoes can benefit from a good warm-up to prevent injuries. Here are some great stretching exercises to get you started:
1. Neck Circles
If you're like most people, you likely carry a lot of stress and tension in your neck and shoulders. This exercise can help stretch and relax the area, allowing for better flexibility and potentially preventing a sports-related injury.
Start by clasping your hands together behind your back. Do your best to keep your arms straight; this will help pull your shoulders back and stretch the area. Then, touch your chin to your chest. Slowly roll your head to the right, making your ear touch your shoulder, and then all the way back. Continue this slow circle until your chin has made it back to your chest. Repeat in the opposite direction. Do a couple of circles before moving on to the next stretch.
If at any point in the circle your muscles feel particularly tense, hold the position to allow for a deeper stretch. This can help you avoid a sports-related injury by loosening up your muscles before they get put to work.
2. Shoulder CARs
CARs (controlled articular rotations) are active stretches used to improve mobility by challenging the body and its joints to move in a specific, circular way. Specifically, CARs are used to improve a person's range of motion while also increasing the strength and stability of the joint.
Shoulder CARs help to improve your range of motion in your upper body, helping you to avoid a pulled muscle or more serious injury.
Start by reaching one arm out in front of you with your thumb pointed at the ceiling. Then, slowly raise your arm above your head. Without turning or twisting your torso, continue the circle by reaching behind you. As you do this, slowly rotate your arm with the movement so that your thumb continues to point towards the ceiling. Finish the circle with your arm back out in front of you.
You'll want to repeat this at least 6 times with each arm. As you go, challenge yourself to make each circle bigger than the last. This repetition and focus on widening the circle are what really extend your range of motion.
3. Standing Hamstring Stretch
A standing hamstring stretch is a great way to stretch the muscles in your calf and thigh, ultimately helping to prevent sports injuries in the lower body, including knee injuries. This is particularly important because many common sports injuries affect the muscles in the legs.
To perform a standing hamstring stretch, start by placing your right heel out in front of you with your toes lifted into the air. Then, bend your left knee slightly while resting your hands on your right leg. Keep your back straight as you slowly lean forward and feel the stretch throughout your leg. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other leg.
4. Toe-To-Wall Stretch
A great way to prevent serious injuries to the Achilles tendon is by stretching the foot, ankle, and calf with a toe-to-wall stretch.
Start by facing a wall and placing the toes of one foot on it, with your heel still on the floor. The higher you place your toes, the deeper the stretch will be. Then, with your other leg planted firmly on the floor, lean forward and hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Switch feet and repeat. Do three rounds on each side
5. Pigeon Pose
When it comes to preventing sports injuries, yoga is a great tool. With proper technique, yoga stretches and strengthens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the body, helping to prevent injuries before they happen.
Pigeon pose is a great yoga stretch for the inner thighs, glutes, and hips—all areas that commonly get tight from running and other sports. This stretch is also helpful in relieving tension in the lower back.
To do the pigeon pose, start in a low lunge position with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Then, lower your right knee to the ground and slide your left leg forward so that it is bent at a 90-degree angle in front of you. Next, lower your hips to the ground and rest your forehead on your hands. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
6. Cat-Cow Pose
Cat-cow pose is another great yoga stretch for preventing sports injuries. This pose helps to loosen up the spine, neck, and shoulders, which often get tight from repetitive motions and stress.
To do the cat-cow pose, start on your hands and knees with your back in a neutral position. As you inhale, arch your back and look up towards the ceiling, letting your stomach sink down towards the floor. This is the cow pose. As you exhale, round your back and tuck your chin towards your chest, pulling your stomach up towards your spine. This is the cat pose. Repeat this sequence 10 times.
7. Child’s Pose
Child’s pose is another great yoga stretch for the lower back, hips, and thighs. This pose helps to release tension in the back and lengthen the spine, and it's a great way to finish off a stretching session.
To do child’s pose, start on your hands and knees with your feet hip-width apart. As you exhale, slowly lower your hips back towards your heels and rest your forehead on the floor. You can keep your arms extended in front of you or place them by your sides with your palms facing up. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
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