The use of active dynamic warm-ups (ADWUs) before exercise has become increasingly popular for many sport teams and strength coaches. ADWUs serve to prepare the body for physical work by increasing heart rate, creating greater ranges of motion throughout muscles and joints, increasing core body temperature, and increasing circulation to allow the delivery of oxygen and nutrients while increasing muscle temperature to improve elasticity (19). Dynamic warm-ups have been shown to help prevent injury as well as improve performance (4). For example, dynamic stretching has been shown to improve club head speed, ball speed, and club head swing path during golf swing performance tests (7).
The use of dynamic warm-up protocols has been shown more effective than static stretching for performance variables, such as strength (2), vertical jump (3), and sprint speed (1,13,18). Thus far, the components of ADWUs have primarily focused on drills for the lower extremities and trunk, both in sport settings and in research (1,3,5,18), with minimal discussion or research about ADWU for the upper extremity. Overhead and throwing athletes, who compete in sports such as javelin, swimming, baseball/softball, volleyball, tennis, and golf, require extensive use of the upper extremities and shoulder in both competition and training. These frequent overhead and throwing movements suggest higher rates of injury to the shoulder, elbow, and arms for many of these sports. For example, injuries to the upper extremities (shoulder, arm/forearm, wrist, and hand) account for approximately 21% of all injuries during high school athletics, with wrestlers suffering 32% of injuries in the upper extremities (9) and more than 57% of baseball pitchers of all ages suffering shoulder injuries during the season (8).
To prepare the arms and upper body for activity, a common tool for clinical research and rehabilitation involves the use of an arm ergometer (16), an approach that is not practical for most general recreational activity or team sports. And although other programs exist to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder (e.g., the Thrower's Ten (11)), these programs often require weights, elastic tubing, or other equipment. This article suggests exercises to dynamically prepare the upper extremities for sport participation without the use of extra equipment.
A warm-up protocol to adequately create movement should consider the anatomy present. The shoulder consists of the scapulothoracic, acromioclavicular, and glenohumeral joints using the pectoralis and deltoid muscles, the rhomboids and trapezius, the muscles of the rotator cuff (infraspinatus, supraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis), latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior and posterior, and the abdominals to act on the joint (6). The great mobility of the shoulder also creates an environment of decreased stability (6), making effective preparation very important for decreased risk of injury.
Table 1 lists a proposed circuit to include into the dynamic warm-up already in place by many sport and performance coaches. The circuit may be used in its entirety or used in conjunction with other exercises. The repetitions suggested do not add excessive time demand but may be increased as needed for progression. To increase the ease of inclusion and the availability for all coaches, the exercises suggested intentionally exclude the use of medicine balls, bands, or other equipment. The circuit addresses the muscles of the shoulder complex, all planes of motion, and appropriate movements related to various sports. The exercises not only place emphasis on scapular retraction and stabilization but also include use of the forearm/wrist flexors and extensors, biceps/triceps, and the intrinsic muscles of the hand. Coaches should encourage and verbally cue stable controlled movements and emphasize active range of motion during the warm-up, specifically avoiding ballistic or “forced” stretches. Existing literature has shown decreased rates of injury and improved performance with athletes when scapular stability is enhanced (17).
The athlete stands erect with arms abducted to 90° (standing “T” position), palms down, and then moves both arms simultaneously clockwise then counterclockwise, alternating directions each repetition. Athletes should begin with small circles and progress to larger circles.
The athlete stands with arms at 30° from the frontal plane and with the thumbs pointing up, raises the straight arms up, and lowers the arms slow and controlled. A full range of motion is encouraged, without causing pain. Cue proper scapular stabilization (squeeze or retract “back and down”).
This complex movement targets scapular stabilization and the muscles of the rotator cuff (Figure 1). The athlete starts standing with the arms hanging freely at the sides, palms facing posteriorly. The athlete performs a shrug, then an “upright row,” pulling the elbows up high, creating a “scarecrow” look. The athlete externally rotates the arms, moving the palms to face anteriorly similar to a “goalpost” position. From there, the athlete extends the arms, reaching upward until straight overhead. The athlete then returns in the exact reverse of the movements, lowering, internally rotating, and lowering arms. This circuit will be completed in standing and bent positions (hips flexed 60°–90°), with the arm movements exactly the same. Performing the movements in a bent-over position creates an additional force from gravity and is the next progression for athletes who have mastered the standing Cuban press. When performing the exercise in a bent position (hips flexed), the forearms should maintain alignment with the torso (in the frontal plane).
The athlete performs a standard push-up, with the hands shoulder-width apart and the elbows close to the body (triceps focus) (Figure 2). At the top of the push-up, the athlete intentionally protracts the scapulae while maintaining a neutral spine. The athlete then retracts back to a flat-back “starting” position and repeats, emphasizing protraction and retraction of the scapulae. Athletes may perform the push-up on their toes, or if less resistance is required, they may perform the push-up on their knees or standing and leaning against a bench or counter. Five repetitions should use the narrow shoulder width, with 5 repetitions using a wider-than-shoulder width, to provide additional stretch to the pectoralis group.
SEATED RUSSIAN TWIST
The athlete sits with hips flexed, knees bent, and feet lifted off the floor (Figure 3). Twisting side to side, rotate the trunk while keeping the abdominals contracted and controlling an active range of motion.
The athlete interlocks the 4 fingers of each hand in front of the chest, one hand thumb up and the other thumb down (Figure 4). Maintaining the grip, the athlete retracts the scapulae and creates an isometric pull, attempting to break the grip and pull the elbows outward. Each repetition is held for 2 seconds and repeated.
Starting from the floor or parallel squat position, the athlete holds onto a door frame and performs a 2-arm horizontal row similar to a seated cable row, actively stabilizing the scapulae and creating a pull toward the anchor (Figure 5). Other anchored stationary objects may be used, e.g., bleachers, fence, weight rack, or even another partner/teammate. Further progressions may include a single-arm row.
Table 2 lists several stretches and movements sometimes used by athletes that are contraindicated and should be avoided because they may place undue stress on the shoulder. Excessive stress on the joint capsule can lead to instability at the shoulder (12), resulting in an increased likelihood of labral lesions or tears (8).
Previous research has suggested that warm-up, along with strength and conditioning, plays a role in injury prevention and performance enhancement (14). An ADWU for sport should address the entire body, including both lower and upper extremities. The exercises presented here offer a dynamic warm-up option for healthy athlete populations with focused use of the arms, shoulder, and upper body. Athletes with previous injuries or glenohumeral joint instability should refer to a certified athletic trainer and/or physical therapist regarding exercises to include or avoid. Additionally, there exists a need for more research examining the effectiveness of upper-body preparation before exercise and any accompanying sport-specific variables.
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