I studied Sport Science at university and one topic that just kept coming up was the importance of 'warming-up' before playing sport. Some professionals believed it was vital, while others (especially some academic researchers) were less convinced by the proposed 'benefits' of a warm-up. Some were even suggesting they should be scrapped altogether!
Well, the generally accepted purpose of a warm-up is to prevent injury. We hear that cold muscles can tear so we have to get the warmed-up slowly before we start using them fully in our training. But the research was showing that athletes doing warm-ups were often just as likely to get injured as athletes that don't bother. Therefore, is the warm-up just a waste of time? A tradition? Is the importance of warming up muscles just another old wives tale?
To find answers to these questions we need to look at the types of warm-up we're actually doing. Then we can decide whether warm-ups as a whole are a waste of time or if it's just our current warm-up which is inadequate.
I've been playing and coaching table tennis for about 14 years, in a number of different schools, clubs, universities and academies. In almost all settings, regardless of ability level, the warm-up is the same. It involves jogging, side-stepping, sprinting, maybe some 'high-knees' and 'heel flicks', followed by a few minutes of stretching (by which time you are probably cold again anyway).
Is this true for you? It might not be. These types of warm-up might be restricted to just the UK but I imagine that is not the case (if you want further proof check out this video of the Indian table tennis team warming-up) and therefore...
YOUR CURRENT WARM-UP IS PROBABLY A WASTE OF TIME!
Just something that we've always done and now do 'on autopilot' before training sessions. I cannot think of a single instance, in 14 years of playing table tennis, when I have flicked up my heel towards my backside during practice or a match! It's never happened. So why are we doing it in our warm-up?
The problem is that back in the day we probably stole our warm-ups from footballers or another sport that involves lots of running. And table tennis is not football! We don't spend a game walking, jogging and sprinting around. We generally never travel further than two steps and very rarely are the facing the direction we want to move towards.
So what should we be doing instead?
The buzz word in current Sport Science practice is 'sport-specific'. Everything we do should be specific to the sport that we play. So for table tennis, our warm-up should involve quick changes of direction over a short distance. We should be in our usual table tennis stance and could even incorporate some 'shadow-play' shots. Here are some ideas...
So there we have it. A few ideas for you to think about incorporating into your warm-up. Do I think warm-ups are a waste of time? No. A properly devised warm-up should decrease your risk of injury by getting your body ready to perform. A good warm-up can also have several other benefits such as technique development (if using imitatsiya, or something similar), increased agility (from footwork/side-stepping exercises), and even mental readiness. Performing a warm-up has been shown to help us focus more on a given task. It can clear our mind from the thoughts and worries of our day and get us mentally ready to perform.
So have a look at your current warm-up. You might benefit from switching some things up a bit. And remember, just because everybody else is doing something doesn't make it correct.
Thanks for reading.
Ben Larcombe (www.ExpertTableTennis.com)