How to Warm Up and Cool Down before and after Softball (especially you adult co-ed players!)
August 30, 2022
As fall approaches, we are quickly getting back into the routine of fall sports: practices, scrimmages, games, and tournaments. We are active and playing much more so than a couple months ago during those relaxing, summer months. Our bodies must gear-up for this drastic change in activity. But if we aren’t careful, the risk of injury can be high and the results detrimental to the season.
One of the most common sports around this time of year is softball. Girls (and adults) are lacing up their cleats and hitting the dirt, sometimes as often as five times a week! Think of the energy required of your body to handle such levels of activity! Studies show that females tend to be more prone to injury than males. This is due to the basic anatomy of a female. A wider-set hip structure puts females at higher-risk of leg injury than males. Smaller bones also place females in a higher-risk category for injury, more specifically in the ligaments and tendons. So how do we decrease our risk?
You’ve probably heard your coaches (trainers, therapists) preach on the importance of warming up and cooling down, so much so that it started to go in one ear and out the other. But there is a good reason for this repetitive reminder! Without proper preparation, your muscles and bone structures will struggle to tolerate the high demand of competition. Warmups usually consist of a series of exercises or stretches at a low load and slow pace. The idea is to drive blood flow to the muscle tissues, allowing them to relax enough to withstand a great force later. A proper warmup can also improve oxygen flow in the body. Oxygen is needed for your muscles to function during activity. With a greater oxygen flow, your muscles can readily access the supply and work more efficiently.
So, what type of exercise is good for a warmup? There are many ways you can prepare those muscles and tissues, depending on your sport and intensity. For softball players, dynamic (movement-based) activity, as well as static (non-movement based) activity is recommended for a well-rounded preparation. Dynamic exercises can range anywhere from jogging around the field to agilities to throwing the ball with a partner. Static exercises would include those stretches you sit or stand and hold for 15-30 seconds. A prolonged hold is recommended to change the length of the muscle and improve its flexibility, which decreases the likelihood of strains and tears. As a softball player, you’ll want to make sure you get prolonged stretches completed at every joint! The ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and neck are all vital when it comes to your softball game-there is never a time we aren’t using one of those joints!
Now that you’ve properly warmed up and played your game, you can go slump on the couch to relax the rest of the evening, right? Wrong! One of the worst things you can do for your body is to halt all activity and sit still for the next couple hours. High-intensity physical activity causes microtears within the muscles. As the muscles repair themselves, they regenerate to a stronger, more stable state. A cool-down allows for muscles to regroup and repair without causing too much soreness. Exercises for a cool-down can mirror those of a warmup. Low load stretching to improve your range of motion and flexibility will help decrease symptoms over the next couple days. Walking is also a great way to cool down those muscles and allow time for your body to reset. A mild to moderate pace for about 10-15 minutes following a softball game will decrease your heart rate, decrease lactic acid build-up, and decrease your risk of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) over the next 48 hours.
While you may be ready to hit the field running, I’d encourage you to stop. Take the time to stretch out and warm up those tissues. Fully prepare your muscles for the undertaking they are about to experience. Set aside some time before and after your game to complete a regimen that includes all major muscle groups. This could save your body from injury and keep you in the game all season long!