The how, what and why of warming up.
Why should we warm-up?
When you enter the gym or get onto the training field your body is not mentally or physically prepared for the demands you are about to create, making it risky to begin a strenuous activity without a prior warm-up.
Warming up is really important for injury prevention and performance enhancement. An effective warmup can increase the bodies core temperature, blood flow, muscle temperature and disrupt any temporary connective tissue bonds. The knock-on effects of this are:
- Faster contraction and relaxation of agonist and antagonistic muscles
- Improved reaction time
- Increased mobility
- Improved rate of force development
- Improved muscle strength and power
- Improved 02 delivery due to the Bohr effect (increase temperature facilitates 02 release from haemoglobin and myoglobin)
- Increased blood and nutrient flow to active muscles
- Enhanced metabolic reaction
- Decreased injury risk.
How should we warm-up?
So now we have recognised why warming up is so important, let’s look at how is best to warm-up!
One of the most established and well researched methods of warming up is Dr Jeffreys RAMP protocol. The RAMP protocol separates the components of an effective warm-up into the subsequent stages; Raise, Activate and Mobilise, and Potentiate. This separation of phases allows an easy checklist for coaches and athletes to ensure an effective warm-up has taken place.
The what, why and how of RAISE.
Within the raise section we should be raising body temperature, increasing heart rate, respiration rate, blood flow and joint viscosity. Although historically this is a jog around the field or mats, there is a growing body of coaches who now acknowledge this practice as a significant waste of training time. To put in into perspective, if you train for 6 hours a week and spend 5 minutes each session jogging in a continuous manner around an area, you would be spending 30 minutes a week doing something that relates poorly to any sport outside of slow and steady paced running.
So why not try making your raise portion of the warm-up sport specific? For example, if your sport is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you will spend a significant amount of time changing levels, directions, speeds and intensities. So why not try something that includes those elements? You could have a competition sized mat area and begin moving around in a manner true to your sport, (maintaining base, not crossing your feet and changing direction) then add random sprawls, shoots, burpees, sit throughs or pace changes. You are now utilising those 30 minutes a week practicing skills that are useful within your sport, whilst also warming yourself up more effectively.
Two birds, one stone.
Activate and Mobilise
Next up we have the activation and mobilise stage. The aim here is to activate fundamental muscle groups and to mobilise joints and ranges of motion that are going to be crucial for your sport. This stage will differ massively between sports, so it’s important to have a think about what movements are important in your sport and which you individually need to improve. Careful consideration here will allow you to design a warm-up that effectively prepares you for your sport, and subsequently reduces injury risk and improves performance.
Some examples of exercises that may feature in this stage are:
- Inchworms or animal movements,
- Yoga based flows,
- Banded glute activation,
- Balance exercises,
- Banded mobility drills,
- Banded crab walks.
Whilst you may have an activate and mobilise section that looks similar to someone else who competes in your sport, individual weaknesses, previous injuries or sport specific tactics will mean no two warm-ups are quite the same.
And finally, Potentiate.
This phase is all about fine tuning ready for a session or competition. The exercises or drills in this section of the warmup are likely to be sport specific activities at higher intensities than the previous parts of the warmup. The main aims are to increase the intensity to a level that’s comparable with the demands an athlete is about to face and to improve performance by using the effects of Post-activation Potentiation or PAP.
When preparing these drills think of reactive agility-based drills, plyometric exercise (unilateral and bilateral dependant on sport), accelerations, changing levels, explosively moving, reacting to live stimuli that are likely to be found in your sport. Very few sports take place in a closed scenario, so add some chaos into this phase allowing you to warm up your mind also by facing the cognitive demand of your sport. This should be the most intense part of your warmup.
Again using the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu example, this may look like knee and shoulder taps with a partner at a high intensity or shooting for your takedown of choice in reaction to a verbal or visual cue. Essentially, you should include an external stimulus, resistance, a mental engaging aspect and relevant skills.
Lets wrap it up.
Hopefully this has highlighted why an effective warm-up is absolutely vital to performance. A good quality warm-up should be given as much time and effort as the rest of your training, as it really is that important. Physically it's impossible to perform safely to the best of your ability without a thorough warm-up but also mentally to be ready for competition or training is also impossible without prior cognitive engagement that an effective warm-up provides.
To put the time spent warming up into perspective if you train 4x a week, your 15 minute warm-up adds up to an hour of your weekly training, equating to 52 hours a year. I’ve never met an athlete who can afford to waste 52 hours of training a year, can you?