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Playing It Safe – The Whys and Hows of Sports Hydration, Warm Ups, and Stretching

Fall is fast approaching, and we all know what that means: no more excuses for hiding indoors. Sure, winter’s too cold, summer gets too hot, but fall—it really can be the perfect time to hit the courts and fields with friends.

Whatever your preferred activity, be it larger team sports like football, soccer or volleyball, or smaller scale games like tennis, it’s important to take steps to keep things fun and safe. After all, half the point of staying active is to stay healthy, so doing something silly that lands you in the emergency room kind of defeats the purpose.

Of course, the absolute most important safety factor in sports is making sure you’re physically ready for your chosen activity. Consulting an orthopedic sports medicine specialist to discuss your health history and sports interests goes a long way, and also lays the groundwork for your doctor to continue assisting and advising you as your game develops.

If you’re new to a sport, then one of your first moves should be gaining a thorough understanding of the game itself. Knowing the rules and norms not only makes playing that much more fun, but also gives you a better sense of where your teammates and opponents are likely to be at any given time. Just watch an amateur volleyball game and you’ll quickly notice that whenever a player gets an accidental elbow in the face, it’s often because someone didn’t know where they were supposed to be.

Understanding the game aside, there are several other, equally important factors to keep yourself safe and healthy during play. And, while they may seem obvious, the exact whys and hows are important to understand. Even something so obvious and basic as drinking lots of water should be done in the right way if you’re hoping to bring your A-game.


One of the simplest and most important things you can do for yourself is staying hydrated. As you work out, sweat results in loss of not just water, but also electrolytes. This can reduce performance, induce fatigue, and even result in more serious conditions caused by a variety of heat-related illnesses. That’s why, from beginning to end, every sports activity should include a healthy hydration regimen.

  1. Begin hydration before the games even start—preferably with two cups of water about two hours before you start.
  2. Continue drinking four to six ounces every fifteen minutes or so.
  3. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty as your thirst sensation won’t actually kick in until you’re already getting dehydrated.
  4. Regular water is great for shorter, lighter activities. For longer games, look to sports drinks for some much-needed electrolytes and carbohydrates.
  5. You can monitor your hydration by paying attention to your urine’s color during rest breaks. Pale yellow is what you’re looking for, while bright yellow is a warning to up your water intake. And if it’s approaching brown, then it’s probably time to get off the field, out of the sun, and really focus on rehydrating.

Warm Up

All too often, warming up is relegated to some light stretching and a quick lap around the field, but this not only marginalizes the benefit of your warmup, it can actually result in injury by overly straining your muscles before they’re ready. A proper warmup routine should ease your body into a more active state, prepare your joints and muscles for activity, and sharpen your body and mind.

  1. Allow a good 10 to 30 minutes for warm up. It doesn’t have to take long, but don’t treat it like something you do in 30 seconds after tying your shoes.
  2. The most effective warm ups reflect the motions you’ll be doing in your sport. This activates the actual muscle and joint groups you’ll be using. Agility drills are terrific for soccer and football, while tennis players should also focus on getting their arms and torsos swinging, rotating, and ready for action. If you need ideas, just Google “Warm up routines for [your game]” and you’ll find plenty to choose from.
  3. For a more intense warm-up, the finer points of a RAMP (Raise, Activate, Mobilize, Potentiate) can help you take things to the next level. What is the RAMP warm-up? at Human Kinetics offers a great overview.


One of the most commonly known steps in sports safety is also one of the most mis-applied. Contrary to conventional wisdom, your dedicated stretching time should be saved for after the games have finished rather than before. If you warmed up correctly, then you’ll have already gotten some light stretching as a natural result of your muscle activations—this is called dynamic stretching, and it’s the only sort of stretching you need before playing. After the game is when you’ll want to spend some time on static stretching.

  1. This is your opportunity to engage in toe touches, groin stretches, and all those other stretches you remember from middle-school gym class.
  2. Be sure to always go slow, hold your stretches, and then ease back out of them. Going fast can result in discomfort and even injury.
  3. A proper post-game stretching routine will help reduce stiffness and pain as your body recovers, and also increase flexibility over time.
  4. If you need a little more guidance on some good stretches to add to your regimen, complete with instructive pictures, check out The 21 Best Stretching Exercises for Better Flexibility at Self.com.

Fall really is a terrific time to enjoy your favorite sports, or to try out some new ones. Just remember that every game should begin with a thorough warm-up, conclude with stretching, and always be sure to hydrate throughout. And if you ever have any questions, concerns, or experience discomfort during or after play, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor. Request an appointment online or call 414-961-6800 to set up a consultation. We look forward to meeting you and helping you make the most of your sports this season.

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