As we head towards the cooler months the netball season is fast approaching. Training has resumed and your fitness is being tested (after a potentially “relaxed” offseason). Unfortunately, this time of the year is the peak for preventable injuries. In the sports medicine field, we get inundated with injuries that may have been avoided or minimised, all by doing one single activity – preparation.
The old terminology for this would be doing a ‘proper warm up’, but this term can be misleading, as it places the emphasis on the “warming” or getting the heart rate up. Where in reality it is more about getting your brain to muscle connections in sync. To play sport, we need to react quickly to complex movements at a high speed and force. Without warming up, often there is a lag between when your brain says to move in a certain way, and the actual result. Think about how most ankles are rolled – jumping for the ball or side-stepping a player. And yes, you have done this 1000’s times before, but on this one instance your ankle doesn’t hold up in the first 5 minutes of the game.
Even more concerningly, major injuries like Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) and meniscus tears occur in the same way, which often require long term rehab or potential surgery to recover from.
So how do we adequately prepare our brain-body connection? Certainly, more than a jog around the court, I can assure you. We need to get our bodies to move and react quickly into positions we are going to need in a game situation. In netball we recommend including the below into your warm-up:
1. Hop and stick – hopping forward and landing on one leg with the hip, knee and ankle all in alignment. Repeating 10x on each leg. Up for a challenge? Hop forwards but in a slightly diagonal direction.
2. Jumping for a ball and landing with soft knees and landing ‘out’ (as opposed to in). In other words, landing in a “squat stance” so there is even weight distribution through each foot and with hip, knee and foot all in alignment. Want to make this harder? Have your teammate throw the ball a little higher or where you have to reach out with one hand.
3. Single leg balance and catch – standing on one leg and having a teammate throw you the ball. Firstly, have the ball thrown to your chest, then to more challenging places where you have to reach. Ready for something harder? While still standing on one leg, throw the ball back to your partner with a shoulder pass, switching arms as you go. This helps to switch on important stabilising muscles in your shoulder.
4. Engaging key muscle groups – think high knees or A-skip, arabesque, glute bridges, calf raises, pogo hops off the toes or skipping with a rope. Its important here not to work muscles to fatigue but enough so you feel the movement is refined, smooth and the region is ‘warm’ and activated.
All of these are great ways to reduce your injury risk and improve your athletic performance. If you are unsure how to do these as an athlete or you are a coach who would like some more guidance, your local physio can show you how. We are also able to help you develop a warm-up plan that is age and skill appropriate, and give you key things to look for in regards to performing these exercises with good form.
So, let’s all get stuck into our prep-work before games this year – bonus points for also including prior to training as well!