5 Warm-Down Exercises That Can Prevent Muscle Injuries
The whole concept of warming down is relatively new in English football. Many in the game believe it was Arsene Wenger who first introduced regular warm-downs to Premier League clubs. From the moment Wenger arrived at Arsenal, he did away with the group baths in favour of group warm-down sessions. Indeed, there are many experts who believe that this move extended the playing careers of Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould.
There is now a feeling among sports scientists and physios that warm-downs are more important than warm-ups. A series of gentle exercises and stretches after a match or training session aids recovery, and protects against injuries. There is also evidence that it helps to lower the heart rate gradually and improve the flow of oxygen to the muscles — both of which help the body to flush out lactic acid and relieve stiffness.
This particular warm-down routine is one you might see on Premier League pitches up and down the country, and it is based on five key muscle groups.
Groin pulls and tears are very common amongst professional footballers, and many happen after a match during seemingly innocuous tasks such as getting into a car.
Start a groin warm-down by standing with your legs spread wider than your shoulders. Shift all your weight onto one knee and bend it gently, leaving the other leg straight. Reach your hand down your straight leg towards your foot, and gently rock your hand up and down. Do this 20 times, and switch to the other leg.
Your quadriceps are the bulky muscles at the front of your upper legs. During the course of a match or training session, they do a lot of work, and they can suffer tears, strains and build-ups of lactic acid relatively easily.
Start a quadriceps warm-down by standing on one leg and grabbing your lifted foot with the corresponding hand. Pull your heel into your buttock, and push your hips out to increase the stretch. Lower your leg back to the floor, and repeat the stretch five to 10 times before switching to the other leg.
Your calves are working constantly during a match or training session. They are constantly driving your sprints and turns, so they’re put under enormous strain. A lot of players suffer calf strains to differing degrees, many of which are completely avoidable with the right warm-down exercises.
Start your warm-down routine for your calves by resting both hands on something — a wall or a teammate are both ideal. Stretch one leg out straight behind you, and keep the leg in front bent. Very slowly, lean forwards and apply a very small amount of force to the back of your lower leg. Throughout this particular stretch, it is important to keep your back heel firmly on the ground. Repeat this between five and 10 times before moving to the next calf.
Any professional footballer will tell you that, at some stage in their career, they’ve been forced to sit on the sidelines with a hamstring problem. Strains, pulls and tears in the hamstrings usually occur through over-stretching. Unfortunately, hamstring strains usually require period of at least six weeks for rehabilitation, so it’s important to do all you can to take care of them.
Start your hamstrings warm-down stretches by lifting a toe in the air, straightening the same leg and putting both hands on the same knee. At this stage, your other leg should be bent and supporting your weight. Gently lower your body whilst keeping your back straight — until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstring (the big muscle at the back of your upper leg). Repeat this stretch at least five times before moving to the other leg.
You won’t see too many amateur footballers perform warm-down stretches for the lower back, but they are hugely important. Lower back strains can develop during the hours after a match or training session — particularly in bed during the night.
Start your lower back warm-down stretches by getting on your knees, stretching your arms out in front of you on the ground and tucking your head between your knees. Reach out as far as you can while keeping your buttocks as close to your heels as possible. Repeat this stretch at least five times during the 30 minutes after a match or training session — whether your back feels stiff or not.
Some strains, pulls and tears are simply part and parcel of playing football. However, with a strict regime of warm-down exercises in place, you can minimise the chances of post-match injuries.