Precaution of Warm-up Exercise

Ó All rights reserved. Dr Paul Lam 2000-2-5

The author: Dr Paul Lam, a family physician in Australia for 25 years, is a respected Tai Chi teacher. He has created several Tai Chi programs that have helped to improve people’s health and well-being. Over last two years, Dr Lam has been travelling extensively to train instructors to teach the special Tai Chi program for arthritis designed by his team of Tai Chi and medical experts. The program is based on the Sun style Tai Chi and is supported by many Arthritis Foundations.


It is extremely important to be aware of how to avoid injury. You don’t have to be an expert of sport medicine, but you should have a working knowledge of how to minimise injury. I want to stress here that this is not a difficult task to do. Once you start taking notice of this topic, you will find many relevant organisations offering seminars and free information. The book "Exercise Danger" has less than 30 pages and contains mainly pictures. If you spend couple of hours working on this book, you should learn how to avoid most problems.

Basically, warm-up and wind-down exercises are essential before practise Tai Chi. In fact recent studies show that stretching after exercise not only help to prevent injury, it also improve the overall benefits of the exercise. It should be stress at all times that students should take care not to over extend themselves. The first stretching should be about 80% of your usually range and slowly and gradually increase as you go.

Sports medicine is a progressive science like many other areas of science. Many of the warm-up exercises we practised years ago have now found to be dangerous. While different levels of athletics do have different levels of stretching, it is necessary to know what the dangerous exercises are and how to use safer alternatives. The student should be made aware of the danger so they can work with their doctors or therapists to take special precautions if they were to do these types of exercises.  Top


It is not possible for me to cover all dangerous exercises, but I would like to give three examples of well-known dangerous exercises, which are still being practised .

Firstly I will explain the anatomy of the spine and the rationale behind the dangerous exercises. The spine (picture 1)Spine1bw.jpg (32193 bytes) supports the body and houses the spinal cord (the main nerve body, which control all movements and sensation from the brain to all parts of the body). It is composes of many vertebras (picture 2), Spine2bw.jpg (50985 bytes)and between two vertebras there is a disc. The disc functions like a cushion, which has a tough outer membrane and thick fluid like material inside. It acts like a shock absorbent between the two hard bony vertebras. From the back of the vertebras large nerves run out from the spinal cord to innervate (control) the different parts of the body. Sometimes compression could rupture the disc. A ruptured disc can press on the nerve causing pain and loss of nervous function (in serious cases, like Christopher Reid who severe his spine and the broken the spinal cord, he loss almost all his muscular functions). For example when people suffer from sciatica, their sciatic nerve, which is a bunch of nerves from the back of the lumbar vertebras, are compressed. In severe cases, people loss sensation and / or muscular functions of their back and lower limbs. In minor cases they will get pain and discomfort of these areas.

The term hyper-flexion I refer to is over bending of the spine. Hyper-flex backward of the neck and back spines is known to cause excessive stress on the disc and could cause disc rupture.

Around the whole spine, there are numerous muscles and ligaments supporting the spine. Injury to any one of these can cause severe pain and muscular stiffness. For example in a case of acute backache (about 40% of people suffer from backache at one time or other), it could be cause by stress or strain on the muscle and ligaments. Hyper-flexion could cause acute backache by putting too much stress on the muscle and ligaments. Usually acute backache recovers fairly quickly while sciatica may be more chronic.

The photos included combining with the text for the dangerous exercises will show them quite clearly, I believe most of us will recognise them easily as they are well-known exercises and done by many of us previously.  Top

Dangerous exercise one – Hyper-flexion of neck

Photo 1 - This is rated as extremely dangerous. Anyone who has suffered from whiplash injury can tell you the degree of pain and discomfort they get from cervical spine damage. Hyper-flexion could cause strain of the neck or even crush injury of the cervical (neck) disc. This exercise should be avoided unless prescribed by a member of the medical profession.

Photo1bw.jpg (3535 bytes)

Photo2bw.jpg (2380 bytes)

Photo 2 - A good alternative exercise to strengthen your neck extensor muscles is to gently push your chin in. In Tai Chi terms, when your chin is tucked in and you are exerting your inner force upward toward the centre of your head, it is same action as the classics: "the centre of your head is attached to a string, which is attached to the ceiling, and you are suspended by this string and the rest of your body hangs straight".

Dangerous exercise two – standing straight legged, touching toes

Photo 3 - Many experts rate this as the world’s most dangerous exercise. You should ask yourself, why am I doing this exercise? Are you stretching your hamstrings, your back or strengthening your back? You should also be aware that by bouncing to touch your toes, you might tear the hamstring or back extension muscles, damaging supportive ligaments or compress the inter-vertebra discs.

Photo3bw.jpg (2210 bytes)

Photo4bw.jpg (3197 bytes)

Photo 4 - A safe alternative is a seated hamstring stretch as demonstrate. Sit straight, tilt your pelvis forward and lean gently forward until you feel a gentle and pleasant hamstring stretch. Avoid over-stretch.

Dangerous exercise three – standing side-bend

Photo 5 - Your upper body weight combined with gravity develops an unnecessary spinal stress in the lumbar and thoracic regions. This exercise may cause disc compression, ligament and muscle stress and it can lead to backache or spinal injury.

Photo5bw.jpg (2783 bytes)

Photo6bw.jpg (2799 bytes)

Photo 6 - An alternative is a knee support stretch and in doing this, try to keep your spine straight. It is probably just as good to stand and reach as though you are picking fruit from a tree and you can stand on your toes if you feel comfortable in doing so.


Tai Chi is a great exercise for health; its popularity in modern days owes much to the very fact it delivers many wonderful health benefits. Like any other exercises, there is always a probability of injury to the practitioners. For Tai Chi to do well in the modern world we need to incorporate modern knowledge into the traditional forms. We have to minimise chances of injury by doing the right type of warm-up and wind-down exercises.

One can always learn new techniques, there are so many new things we need to learn. Don’t be put off by the huge amount of new information we could and need to learn. If we learn one new idea per day, by the end of one month we are 30 points more knowledgeable.

I have no financial interest on the recommended book "Exercise Danger". You can buy it directly from the publisher by fax 08 9383 7323 or phone 08 9387 5111, or from our video distribution company (same retail price) by phone 02 9533 6511, fax 02 9534 4311 or e-mail



Home Page   Articles