In Official Special Olympics as well as other sport programs, warm-ups are used to prepare muscles and soft tissues for the demands of an activity. While all of the Motor Activity Training Program sport activities involve physical movement, some do not place strenuous demands on the entire body. Athletes with significant intellectual disability may have a limited range of motion or lack sufficient strength to participate in a sport skill for a long period of time. Motor Activity Training Program athletes should participate in warm up activities with the coaches concentrating on warming up the specific body part(s) involved in the activity. Warm-ups can also be used to assist the athlete in developing as much independent movement as possible.
Active range of motion involves the athlete moving his/her body part without the assistance of a coach, trainer or therapist. The athletes should perform active range of motion activities slowly and smoothly taking care to avoid jerking or moving body parts too quickly. Joints should not be stretched beyond their normal range of motion. When the desired position is reached, the athlete then holds the position for 10-15 seconds to help relax and lengthen the muscles.
Warm-Up Activities (First 10-12 minutes of the training session)
Select activities that will warm up the parts of the body you will use in this session.
- Breathing Activity
Determine the most comfortable starting position. Demonstrate and then ask the athlete to inhale deeply, through their nose if possible, and hold it, then demonstrate and ask participant to forcefully exhale through their mouth. Repeat five times.
- Accepts tactile stimulation
Using a soft towel, yarn ball, nerf ball, or other soft object, gently rub the object up and down the participant's arm. Repeat with other body parts.
- Independent muscle relaxation
Have participants work on tightening muscles for five seconds and relaxing muscles for 15 seconds on their own. It is sometimes helpful to suggest images for the athlete to focus. Raw spaghetti is rigid, cooked spaghetti is relaxed.
Sample Active Warm-ups for Athlete Lying Supine on Mat
- Lift one arm straight up and over until it touches the mat over your head, and return it to starting position
- Repeat with the other arm and return it to starting position
- Repeat with both arms at the same time and return them to the starting position
- Repeat arm movements several times
- Cross left arm over to the right side of the body (left to right)
- Cross right arm over to the left side of the body (right to left)
- Repeat cross over arm movements several times
- Lift one leg up to a 45 degree angle and return it to starting position
- Lift the other leg and return to starting position
- Lift both legs and return to starting position
- Repeat leg movements several times
- Cross left leg over right leg
- Cross right leg over left leg
- Repeat several times
Massage techniques by professionals can be effective as a warm up activity for athletes with severe or profound intellectual disability. Massage involves applying a small amount of pressure to the muscles that are to be used in the Motor Activity Training Program activity. The hands of the therapist are firmly placed on the athlete and then moved over the muscle gradually applying a small amount of pressure to the muscle. At all times, the professional should be aware that an athlete might have skin tissue that can be easily damaged.
Coaches are also encouraged to keep athletes warm. This assists in maintaining muscle elasticity, joint range of motion, and preventing injuries during participation. Athletes should wear adequate clothing prior to the start of an activity, between sport activities and following participation.
Stretching and 'Range of Motion' activities are important but not to be done before consulting with the athlete's parents and/or Physical Therapist to learn specific ways this athlete is used to stretching.
- Passive stretching by coach
The coach, if properly trained, may provide passive stretching and massage techniques to warm-up and stretch an MATP athlete. However, Special Olympics MATP Coach Certification does NOT qualify the coach to perform these activities. That certification must come through a physical therapist, adapted physical educator, occupational therapist, nurse or other licensed professional.