Proper Warm-Up AND Cool-down
There are many parts to injury prevention during sports, but the MOST important is proper warm-up and cool-downs. In the past athletes lined up or stood in a circle and counted to 15 as they held a stretch for their hamstrings, quads, thighs and all other part of their bodies. This archaic way of stretching will do NOTHING for your muscles before a workout. Below, I am going to walk you through a proper warm-up for your muscles and how to correctly use both STATIC stretching as well as DYNAMIC stretching to help prevent injuries.
DYNAMIC stretching is the best way to properly warm-up your muscles for any activity. Dynamic simply means movement. You need to move your body while stretching. Walking lunges for 15 meters with a 15 meter jog will stretch your quadriceps, gluteus maximus (rear end) and your hamstrings. I generally add an elbow to instep to really make sure my athletes are getting down far enough. Writing this, I'll have to make a video of a dynamic warm-up you can use before an exercise to get your body warm and your muscles ready for action. Last thing I would like to comment on is, a dynamic warm-up is that you should also pair it with the sport specific movements. If you are playing rugby or basketball, add in ball handling drills throughout the movements. If you are going to be playing soccer (football), use the time to add in some touch drills so athletes can work on skill development. Make it simple and keep it technical, using proper form is of the upmost importance.
STATIC stretching is meant to cool down and elongate your muscles. When pairing static stretching with athletics you have to remember this key concept, muscles are best elongated when they are warm, therefore static stretching is best done at the END of your activity. There are two main reasons why we want to elongate our muscles. First and foremost it develops our flexibility, a flexibly body can stretch further that the opposite, therefore if a body does need to stretch beyond it's usual because of an external force the tissue will flex rather than tear. Second, flexibility will increase range of motion. Range of motion is great for all sorts of things, including tying your shoes, sitting cross legged on the floor or in my case right now, jamming myself in the small quarters of an Asian airplane. As a 6'4" westerner, I find myself sometimes constrained by the size of things in the eastern world. Just recently I went back to my elementary days and the duck walk when climbing through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. I'll tell you what, if I didn't have my flexibility and range of motion I don't know if I would have been able to experience that.
Both dynamic and static stretching is important, JUST as important as performing them in the correct order before activity. Just remember to always, always, always, focus on the technique of the stretch as well as the stability throughout the stretch. By doing so you and your athletes will become more flexible and less prone to injury throughout your life.