The Warm Up – What should I aim to do?

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Warm Up – What should I aim to do?

 So you’re an aspiring strength and conditioning coach and want to get some experience therefore you volunteer with your local sports team to help in anyway you can. The manager in turn agrees he/she will let you take the teams warm up for them. Now, having watched some strength & conditioning gurus online teach athletes to perform barbell curls while single leg squatting on a exercise ball you find this a bit of a let down and possibly a tad boring and easy to be honest…

 

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 You couldn’t be any more further from the truth!

 In its simplest terms the aim of the warm up is to prepare the player/players mentally and physically for exercise or competition (Hoffman, 2002). A well-designed warm up should increase muscle temperature, core temperature, and blood flow and also prepare the body for the movement patterns and impacts directly associated with the activity that is about to occur.  With this in mind an effective warm up can elicit positive effects on performance attributes such as improvements in rate of force development and reaction time, and improvements in muscle strength and power. With such positive effects, an effective warm up could also be termed as performance preparation as it enables a player to perform at their maximal capacity in training or competition (Jeffrey’s, 2007). As sarcastically highlighted above the warm up is an aspect of training that is very easy to take for granted due to the nature of it been a component of each and every training unit and it may become quite tedious however lets take a look at what you can get out of a ‘just’ a warm up.

 

How do I feel about a warm up?

 

When coaching at an amateur level it is imperative for a conditioning coach to make the most of his/her ‘contact coaching’ time. As discussed at a recent workshop with classmates at Setanta College a well planned warm up can provide an ideal opportunity for a conditioning coach to include a range of stimuli that you may not have time elsewhere to coach within the teams training programme such as speed mechanic drills and specific plyometrics. I for one (and probably will again) have run into the issue of the team managers highlighting ‘you are taking too long with them speed mechanic drills, I need to get them for my hour and why are they standing around so long after each acceleration’ and so on. Something had to give.

 

A switched on coach will recognise that a warm up is an integral element to a training session as a method of performance preparation and also can contribute to the overall training effect. Your warm up should be thoroughly planned so that it merges into the actual workout therefore it is essential we plan and select activities that coincide both with the session, training cycle and overall training programme as there is a cumulative training effect from a warm up. Take the coach above who was given ‘only’ 20 minutes by the coach to warm up the team, however if he has 20 minutes three times per week this an hours ‘coaching’ in which he has direct control over, no questions asked – make this count. For younger athletes or even athletes with a low training age a warm up can be a workout in it self, likewise in-season a warm up can be tweaked to maintain work capacity of a team that has a long playing season without sufficient breaks between fixtures to allow for extra conditioning. These are just a few points I feel are often overlooked when looking at a warm up procedure and hopefully you can appreciate that the warm up deserves some attention in the whole process of athletic development.

 

For all sports the warm up needs to be constructed to address the physiological and biomechanical requirements of the sport as well as the technical requirements of soccer. Traditionally the warm up is subdivided into two elements, a general warm up and a specific warm up component. The general phase normally consists of light activities such as jogging where as the specific phase traditionally consists of stretching and sport specific movements (Baechle & Earle, 2000).

 

Static Stretch they said, be grand they said…

 

In the last 2 or 3 decades a debate has arisen in the world of S&C in relation to warm up components and none more so than the use of static stretching. Static stretching has been a central part of warm up routines, and is often justified as a mechanism of injury prevention and performance enhancement; however, research has shown little, if any, evidence that stretching pre participation prevents injury (Shrier, 2000). Likewise, research suggests that rather than enhance subsequent performance static stretching can actually negatively affect muscle performance (Knudson et al, 2000). While there is research that shows no effect on subsequent performance (Little & Williams, 2006) there is adequate evidence to question the use of static stretching in the warm up. This makes sense though right, there is no way static stretching alone will benefit your workout surely? So lets look at this from a slightly different perspective away from all the research and think about the real world. Growing up playing soccer jogging a few laps of the field and static stretching was the norm for Johnny Doe, he has been playing 25 years with no serious injuries, and a new coach comes to the club and has banned any static stretches prior to training. Instead he uses a new dynamic warm up method that the players haven’t used before. Johnny on the very first night of new training block has perceived to feel tightness in his hamstring and pulls out of the session. Was it was because he didn’t static stretch!? Doubtful…

 

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 The big word above is perceived, some guys NEED to static stretch to keep their mind in check and heads right. I have come across this time and time again. As mentioned above research has examined and highlighted other stretching methods that may not reduce performance and also offer a more functional method of enhancing subsequent performance. Dynamic stretching is one method that does not seem to cause the same reduction in performance in comparison to static stretching (Fletcher & Jones, 2004). Within this study the authors also noted an increase in subsequent running performance after the dynamic stretching protocol. Furthermore, the active nature of dynamic stretching in comparison to static stretching is more functional. An effective dynamic stretch also requires activation of the muscle through the range of movement, which, according to Ian Jeffrey’s (2007), contributes to the neural activation requirements of an effective warm up. Therefore dynamic stretching has been suggested as a more suitable method of mobilisation during a warm up. Obviously makes more sense.

 

So is static stretching the devil? Personally I don’t think so, I tend to agree with S&C expert Mike Boyle on this topic as he states that the key may lie in performing static stretching prior to a more dynamic warm up to get the best of both worlds. This is similar to my own approach as a coach with the addidtion of self-myofascial reIease (SMR) techniques prior to stretching. I like to begin all training units with a SMR routine focusing on specific muscle groups throughout the body. During SMR, pressure is applied to a muscle using foam rollers, tennis balls, LAX balls etc causing activation of the Golgi Tendon Organ, which in turn signals muscle spindles to release and relax the muscle being worked on (Everard, 2012). I advocate this procedure for three important reasons –

  1. To normalise tissues that are tight
  2. To improve mobility and range of motion
  3. To improve quality of movement

 

This is followed up with static stretching (yes, static stretching) that aims to increase the length of the muscle while the dynamic stretches will apply this new length to the muscle in a more active manner.

 

 R.A.M.P Method

 

Hopefully, with more and more coaches now aware of scientific research in relation to training methods they may start using different warm ups with the overall training programme in mind, therefore it may be practical to classify the warm up into new phases other than general and specific as mentioned above. Ian Jeffrey’s, a strength and conditioning coach with the British Olympic Association published an article for the UK strength and conditioning association in 2007, which did just that and is fitting with the approach proposed by my recent educators Setanta College. Jeffrey’s (2007) devised a R.A.M.P system, this system identifies three key phases of an effective warm up; 1. Raise, 2. Activate & Mobilise and 3. Potentiate. The aim of the raise phase is to elevate the body’s temperature, heart rate, respiration rate etc via low intensity activities. It is common here to see soccer teams only jogging however having discussed with colleagues at a recent workshop it is evident that this phase can be used to replicate the sports movement skills also. The activation and mobilization phase key aims is to activate key muscle groups and mobilize key joints through the range of motion. This is the phase where a conditioning coach may introduce some bodyweight resistance exercises such as overhead squats, lunge series, etc followed by the dynamic stretches such knee hugs and A walks as discussed above. These dynamic stretches focus on sport specific movements through their full range of motion instead of individual muscles like you do in a static stretch to activate and mobilize muscles and joints respectively. The potentiation phase is where activities are performed in order to improve effectiveness of subsequent performance. In this phase activities will replicate the actual sport itself at a higher intensity. Burkett et al, (2005) has shown that including these high intensity dynamic exercises can facilitate subsequent performance, which is the essence of the potentiation phase. A coach may opt for speed and agility movements and some plyos here to increase the intensity to a point where the players are able to perform their training or match at their maximal capacity. By using this framework the conditioning coach can gradually increase the exercise intensity via dynamic stretches and finish with explosive tasks that replicate the activity and demands of the sport.

 

In conclusion, here is my approach to an effective warm up from a developmental, injury prevention and performance enhancement point of view –

SMR

Stretch

R.A.M.P

 

So there you have it, my 2 cents on what I aim to do with a warm up, what is your aims??

Paul Fisher

National Diploma in Sports Science BSc honour degree in Sports & Exercise Science from University of Ulster Physical fitness and conditioning for sport from Setanta College

Current S & C coach to Donegal Minors and U 21s. 

 

References

 Baechle, T. R., & Earle, R. W. (2000). Essentials of strength and conditioning. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

 Boyle, M. (2010). Advances in functional training – training techniques for coaches, personal trainers and athltes. Chichester: Lotus Publishing.

 Burkett, L. N., Phillips, W. T., Ziuraitis, J. (2005). The best warm up for vertical jump in college age athletic men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 19(3), pp673-676.

 Everard, E. (2012) Self Myofasical Release – Foam Rolling. Setanta College.

 Hoffman, J. (2002). Physiological Aspects of Sports Performance and Training. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

 Jeffreys, I. (2007). Warm up revisited – the ‘RAMP’ method of optimising performance preparation. UK Strength and Conditioning Association.

 Little, T., & Williams, A. G. (2006). Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm ups on high speed motor capacities in professional soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20 (1), pp 203-207.

 Shrier, I. (2000). Stretching before exercise: an evidence based approach. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 34(5), pp324-325.

 

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