Warm-up exercises for Injury Prevention and Recovery
Warm-up exercises may substantially reduce your risk of injury and may also help with a faster recovery from an existing injury. A commitment of 10-15 minutes a day will be extremely beneficial in making connective tissue more supple, allowing for better coordination and recruitment of muscles. From an eastern and western perspective these warm-ups help get your blood flowing, lubricate your joints with synovial fluid and help unblock the stagnation of qi in your joints, all resulting in a balanced energy from a physical and emotional standpoint. These exercises should be performed pain free. This means they should not be performed if you have inflammation in the targeted area, herniated discs, spinal pain, recent surgery and/or cardiovascular conditions such as un-medicated high blood pressure. The start of your day is an ideal time to warm up from head to toe, but realistically this can be done at any time and out of sequence with the same benefits. We will be describing these movements from a standing position but many of them may be easily translated to a sitting or lying down position. Active range of motion is the main component of this routine. Active range of motion is defined as the comfortable motion of a given body part in one direction, ending at a natural endpoint. The endpoint is one of the key elements of these warm-ups. Once you go beyond the end point you will be stretching muscle, which is not the intention of this particular routine. The focus of attention with these movements is the warming up of your major joints, such as your neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, finger, torso, hip, ankle and toe joints. When mentioning the word “repeat” in this routine, the suggested number of repetitions for each movement is 3-10, depending on your available time or how you are feeling. The most important concept I would like to convey about these warm-ups is that there is a sense of play. Play with modifying the movements, play with the speed of the movements, play with using a dictated breath with the movements or just breathing freely. We will touch upon some of these ideas in the routine. They are only to be taken as suggestions to experiment with, since everyone has a different history with performing movement in an enjoyable fashion. The goal is for you to find your own personal warm-up that will help you become more aware and comfortable in your body so that activities performed afterwards are less likely to be harmful to you.
The following movements start from a neutral standing position, feet at hip width, head facing forward, arms at your side, and knees slightly bent. If possible, try to bring everything into alignment with ears over shoulders, shoulders over your hips and hips over your knees. Before beginning your warm-up, take a moment to turn your awareness inward by observing how you feel. Take a deep breath in, extending upward through the crown of your head and on your exhale rooting down through the soles of your feet. This inward awareness and use of breath can easily be translated to a sitting or lying down position.
In starting your warm-up with the NECK JOINT, take another deep breath in, creating space in the upper spine, opening across the chest. As you exhale, keep that sense of space in your upper spine as you bring your chin towards your chest. Stop at your natural endpoint, meaning you should not feel a stretch or any pain. Repeat this flexion of the neck 3-10 times, leaving the number of repetitions up to each individual.
Maintaining this sense of space in your upper spine and keeping your shoulders still, look up, extending your neck comfortably to its endpoint. In the spirit of play you may try this breathing in or out , or just your normal breathing rhythm to see what it feels like. Breath can be a wonderful tool available to you for helping you keep your focus and move in a more natural and relaxed manner.
Again with your upper body and shoulders still, turn your head to the right while keeping your eyes in the same horizontal plane. Repeat and then move in the opposite direction.
With side bending of the neck joint you want to bring your right ear toward your right shoulder. Repeat and then left ear towards left shoulder. Shoulders and upper body still, and always a comfortable end point.
In integrating all of the previous movements of your neck joint, slowly roll your head around one direction several times and then the opposite direction.
SHOULDER JOINT -- Start with your arms at your sides. Shrug your shoulders up, then relax them down. Repeat . Roll your shoulders upward and forward several times and then reverse the direction upward and backward several times. With your arms at your side and keeping them straight, bring them forward and up toward the sky, remembering to keep your gaze straight ahead. Bring them down and repeat. You may want to explore matching these movements to your breath, inhaling as you raise your arms and lowering them on the exhale, or vice versa. If you have an injury that inhibits the movement of one of your arms, then modify the routine so that you move each arm separately within its limits. Again starting with your arms straight at your sides, extend your arms backwards , keeping them parallel. Return to the starting position and repeat. Arms at your sides, bring your arms out sideways and up toward the sky (keeping your gaze forward), then bring them down to the starting position. Repeat. Bring your arms out to the side, parallel (90°) to the floor if possible, then move them slightly backward and return. Repeat. From this same starting position (arms out to the side 90°), move your arms forward across your body, as if giving yourself a hug. Return and repeat, varying the height at which you cross your arms, alternating right-over-left and left-over-right. Again from this same starting position ( arms out to the side 90°) make circles with your arms, going one direction a number of times and then reversing the direction. This is especially good in preventing arm and hand injuries since it helps free up the median nerve. Bring your arms back down to your sides and rotate arms in and out from the shoulder joint several times. As an integration for the shoulder joint movements, swing your arms (knees slightly bent) in opposite directions while bouncing at the knees, as if walking with a spring in your step. Do this as long as it feels good. We sometimes forget when carrying our backpacks, handbags, and café latte that swinging our arms when we walk can be one of the great pleasures in life, elevating our mood.
ELBOW JOINT -- Bring your upper arms close to your body in order to isolate the elbow joints. Rotate your forearms in and then back to the neutral position, avoiding using the shoulder joint. Repeat. Now rotate the forearms outward and return to neutral. Repeat. Again with your upper arms close to your body rotate your forearms so that the palms of your hands face forward. Bend and straighten the elbows several times. For hyper extending your elbow try and straighten your elbows as much as you can, returning to a comfortable neutral position. Repeat.
WRIST JOINT -- With your arms comfortably in front of you and elbows bent (sort of a praying mantis position), bring your wrists to a neutral position and flex them forward and back to neutral several times; then extend them backward and back to neutral several times. In this same position move your hands outward and back to neutral several times and then inward several times. You may want to try this with palms facing up or down and notice which position feels more comfortable. To integrate the wrist movements, make circles with your hands one direction and then the opposite direction.
FINGER JOINTS -- Open and close your hands several times energetically, then wiggle all your fingers in random directions.
TORSO/WAIST – From a neutral standing position with knees slightly bent, turn to the right at the waist and then back to neutral. Allow your arms to swing comfortably during this. Repeat. Then to the left. Repeat. Again you might want to incorporate breath into this, thinking of the breath leading these movements . Return to a neutral standing position, square hips and shoulders to the front, side bending at the hip to the right and then back to neutral repeating several times. Do the same , side bending to the left. Again from a neutral position, square hips and shoulders and extend upward ( maybe try this on an inhalation) through the crown of your head and then give yourself a gentle back bend (try on an exhalation), bringing your gaze toward the sky and then come back to a neutral position. Repeat. From a neutral standing position, knees slightly bent, inhale deeply and on the exhale tuck your chin toward your chest and begin rolling forward, thinking of each vertebra unfolding from the neck down to the lower back. Stop if you need to catch another breath and continue down to your endpoint. If comfortable you may want to hang out in this position for a few breaths. To return to an upright position, think of stacking your vertebrae one on top of another on an inhalation. Repeat. Finish this torso warm-up with an imaginary hula hoop, rotating your waist in a circular motion one direction and then the opposite direction.
HIP JOINT -- Using a chair or wall for support as needed for balance, shift your weight onto your left leg and move right leg forward and then back to its neutral position. Repeat. Then move leg back and return to neutral, again repeating. Shifting your weight to your right leg do the same two movements with the left leg. Shift your weight back to left leg and move right leg outwards away from your body to the right and return back to center . Repeat. Then move right leg across body to left side and back. Repeat. Shift weight to the right leg and do these same two movements with the left leg. Shift weight to left leg, lift your right leg slightly and rotate hip inward so that toes are pointing inward. Repeat several times and then rotate hip outwards so toes point outward. Repeat. Do the same with the left leg. To integrate these movements, shift your weight onto your left leg , lift your right leg slightly and make circles clockwise and then counterclockwise. Do the same with the opposite leg.
KNEE JOINT -- Bend and straighten knees one a t a time. Repeat.
ANKLE JOINT and TOES -- Lift right leg slightly, bringing it forward, and point toes and foot downward away from you and then back to neutral. Repeat. Flex foot upward toward you and back to neutral. Repeat. Move foot so that sole of foot faces inward and then back to neutral. Repeat. Move foot so that sole of foot faces outward and then back to neutral. Repeat. Integrate by moving your foot in circles one direction and then the other. Wiggle your toes every which way. Do all of the above movements on the left foot.
To integrate and appreciate this head to toe warm-up, walk around for a minute or so, enjoying what might feel like a general lightness and increased fluidity or any other changes you may notice.
Finally, I would like to thank my yoga teacher, Kathy Hannauer for her help with this article. Kathy has been a professional violinist for over 25 years and is a registered yoga teacher. She will be contributing to future articles related to yoga and injury prevention and recovery. For private sessions she may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org