By: Kyle Johnson MEd, ATC
As Certified Athletic Trainers we have heard this question hundreds of times. Is it really that important to stretch before I perform? The short, simple answer is yes! The longer answer is, yes, but you need to do it properly to experience the benefits. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need this flexibility to maintain proper range of motion in our joints. Without it, muscles will shorten and become tight. Shortened muscles are weaker and put the body at risk for joint pain, strains and muscle damage.
For traditional athletes and industrial athletes alike, stretching should be a regular part of preparing their bodies for “work” each and every day. The belief used to be that a basic “stretch and flex” program was sufficient to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, current research shows that statically stretching muscles before they’re warmed up can cause damage. When muscles are cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. Performing a short warm up prior to stretching will increase blood flow to muscles, making them more pliable and less susceptible to injury.
Warming up your body and stretching are very natural things to do prior to activity, and there are many benefits. Just as traditional athletes benefit from warm-up and stretching exercises prior to playing, industrial athletes and companies can both benefit by reducing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs in the workplace are common and very costly, resulting in billions of dollars of medical costs each year and unnecessary pain and suffering for industrial athletes. Armed with this information InSite Health has developed the PRO Fit System, a portion of the InSite Health’s comprehensive PRO System. Part of our proprietary PRO Fit system includes what we refer to as PRO Fit Rapid Warm-Ups. This is an industry specific conditioning program that reinforces job-specific flexibility and dynamic exercises. This program is utilized prior to beginning work and targets specific muscle groups to prevent injuries throughout the work day. Performing a proper warm-up routine increases the blood flow to the working muscles which results in decreased muscle stiffness, reduced risk of injury, and improved job performance.
Other Benefits of a Proper Warm-Up:
- Increased Muscle Temperature – Helps muscles contract and relax more quickly which enhances speed and strength and decreases the likelihood of overstretching a muscle and causing injury.
- Increased Body Temperature – Helps improve muscle elasticity, which also reduces the risk of muscle strains.
- Dilation of Blood Vessels – Reduces the resistance to blood flow and lowers stress on the heart.
- Improves Efficient Cooling – Helps improve the heat dissipation mechanism (sweating) in the body for prevent over heating in hot temperatures.
- Increased Blood Temperature – Helps increase oxygen flow to muscles, improving their endurance.
- Increased Range of Motion – Helps improve motion in the joints and reduces stiffness
- Hormonal Changes – Increases the balance of energy producing hormones.
- Mental Preparation – Relaxes the body and helps to increase concentration on job tasks
Examples of Warm-Up Exercises:
- Marching in Place
- Jogging in Place
- Jumping Jacks
- Trunk Twists
- Toe Touches
- Arm Circles
- Neck Rolls
- Wrist Rotations
- Hip Rotations
- Knee Rotations
- Ankle Rotations
Static stretching is another vital component of preparing the body for work, and should be performed following warm-up exercises. Stretching lessens the risk of MSDs by reducing fatigue, improving muscular balance and posture, and improving muscle coordination.
Benefits of Reducing Muscle Fatigue:
- Increases blood supply and nutrients to joint structures and soft tissues
- Increases soft tissue temperature and increases elasticity of soft tissues
- Increases joint synovial fluid to allow greater range of motion and less joint degeneration
- Increases a joint’s ability to move through a greater range of motion with less energy expenditure
- Decreases tightness and resistance in tendons and muscles
Benefits of Improving Muscular Balance and Posture:
- Increases soft tissue structures adaptability to effects of gravity and poor postural habits
- Realigns soft tissue structures, and reduces effort to achieve and maintain good posture
Benefits of Improving Muscle Coordination:
- Enhances nerve impulse activity for better control of muscles
- Improves ability of opposing muscle groups to work in a more coordinated fashion
Implementing InSite Health’s PRO Fit Rapid Warm-Up program daily prior to work activities has proven to be more successful than standard “stretch and flex” programs. In addition to these warm-up, stretching, and exercise programs, InSite Health has a comprehensive PRO System that addresses other health topics, ergonomics, educational materials, and more. So, while standard “stretch and flex” programs can be beneficial, they are one puzzle piece from a much larger puzzle. To effectively reduce work and non-work-related injuries, an all-encompassing approach is best.
Industrial athletes should come to work with confidence that their health, safety and overall well-being is the number one priority. Provide them with the time to prepare their mind and body for work activities. Taking care of your employees is also taking care of your business, and that makes it all worthwhile!
Industrial Sports Medicine Professional
Kyle is an Industrial Sports Medicine Professional for InSite Health. He is a Board-Certified Athletic Trainer with a bachelor’s degree in Athletic Training from Illinois State University and a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He has four years of experience in Industrial Sports Medicine setting; prior to joining this field, Kyle worked with high school, collegiate, and professional athletes.