The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare for a training session or competition mentally and physically. Therefore, a warm should enhance performance, improve a level of fitness and provide reduction of injury risk. While you are designing a warm-up, consider how well it mimics the sport, competition or activity that is about to be performed. Next, think of ways you can optimize training times, which also includes the time you spend warming up. Don’t worry, i’ll give you some things to consider to make the best use of your time.
Tailor the RAMP protocol
Familiar with RAMP (raise, activate and mobilize, performance)? We know a proper warm up should first include increasing core temperature, heart rate, blood flow and joints to help athletes prepare for their sport (also known as the “raise” phase). While general sub-maximal aerobic activity can achieve this, it may be better to utilize this time to also incorporate sport specific drills and technique. Are you simply having your athlete run laps to warm up? Don’t you think there are better ways to utilize their time? Get back to the goal of enhancing performance (not just for today but making them a better athlete in the future) and consider sport-specific movements that would better serve their needs.
Examine the need to stretch
For many years, warming up with a light jog followed by static stretching has been considered the norm. Considering the goal of enhancing performance, although static stretching has been the way most athletes have warmed up in the past, as we have conducted more research on static stretching, there is evidence that it can interfere with performance – especially if high force, velocity, power and/or strength is needed (Fleck & Kraemer, 2014). There is also no evidence that shows static stretching improves performance or reduces chance of injury. Because evidence has shown a decline in force and power production, running speeds and reaction times, many athletes should not include static stretching in their warm-up routines (Jeffreys, 2007).
Consider dynamic movements
Rather than static stretching, dynamic movements related to the session would be more beneficial. Aguilar et. al (2012), found that dynamic stretching and activities assisted with leg strength and vertical jump power among athletes compared to static stretching. I’ve talked a lot about this in recent posts, so I’ll only touch on it today (but I can give plenty of examples lol).
Experiment with PAP
If a sport requires high force or power output, post-activation potentiation (PAP) may enhance an athlete’s warm up (Jeffreys, 2007). Most importantly, if the exercises improve the performance of the activities followed, then PAP should be considered. Using PAP should be considered on an individual basis, so it is difficult to say if it is right for everyone. However, if the athlete is looking to increase work capacity, increase workout density, and aiming for short- and long-term improvements, it may be reasonable to incorporate in their warm up. PAP has been found to result in greater force production and subsequent muscle contractions as motor units remain primed for another contraction for several seconds to a few minutes (Fleck & Kraemer, 2014).
As mentioned, it may not be ideal for every athlete to include because there are a lot of elements to consider. For optimal rest periods, coaches should identify responders individually. However, this may not be possible in a team setting or with limited time. So sufficient time, the coach’s availability to test, monitor each athlete individually (being able to observe proper “window of time”), if equipment is available are just a few things to consider first.
Match Intensity level
A warm-up should also match more aerobic activities similar to the sport or activity about to be performed. Example: If an athlete is about to include higher intensity activities, the warm-up should aim to include more higher intensity, and shorter duration training to match the pattern of play. So the warm up should be optimized to include more sport specific elements (and more of the ATP-PC/lactic acid system.)
Include sport specific movements
To get the athlete physically ready, one should include sport specific movements. When looking at the RAMP protocol, the next phases include activation/mobilization and potentiation. Instead of static stretching, where the muscle relaxes during the stretch, activating and mobilizing is more functional as it moves through the necessary range of motion. That way, muscles can be mobilized and activated. Combined, this approach can be a great base to construct an individualized, effective warm up (Jeffreys, 2007).
Example, for a goalkeeper could expect to see planned change of direction drills and multi directional movements. Activation and mobilization movements should include low intensity movements and may include squats, lunges, and passing drills.
Using the same example, and thinking of ways to enhance performance, this athlete should include reactive agility drills to mimic goal keeping environment during a game. It would also be beneficial to include plyometric exercises like jumps and bounds (1 and 2 leg), twisting, and other high intensity drills that are specific to the sport.
Go ahead and include prehabilitation exercises
Because we are optimizing warm up time, if an athlete is susceptible to an injury, why not work on it in the warm up? Let’s say an athlete has a history of knee injuries due to faulty movement patterns — well, now is a great time to work on correcting that knee valgus. Here we can work on mobility restrictions and stabilizing hip, ankle and knee regions to minimize chance of an ACL injury. So for injury prevention, we can include mini band routines and balance work in the warm up to focus on specific activation and mobilization movements.
I do favor a modified version of a RAMP (raise, activate and mobilize, performance) warm up for all types of athletes. A general example may look something like this:
Aim to raise his body temperature, heart rate, blood flow, etc., simple low-intensity drills like jogging, skipping, side to side shuffles, butt kicks could first be included here.
Activate and Mobilize (5-minutes)
Consider the biomechanical demands. How can you activate and mobilize key joints used for the sport? Does balance work and mini band routines serve a purpose here? This can include movements like steps and hip thrusts. Ultimately, there should also be sport-specific activation and mobilization movements. For example, runners may include hip hikes, shuffles, hurdle walkovers, squats, planks and mountain climbers.
The performance phase should be comparable to the intensity that is about to be used. For example, long distance runners would choose a low intensity choice of movements. This could include a warm-up run at pace to prime the body and nervous system for the distance and intensity that is about to be performed.
So there you have it. How can YOU optimize your warm-up sessions to save your athlete’s time while simultaneously keeping them safe and prepping them for maximal performance?
Happy training friends!
Aguilar, A.J., DiStefano, L.J., Brown, C.N., Herman, D.C., Guskiewicz, K.M., Padua D.A. (2012). A Dynamic Warm Up Model Increases Quadriceps Strength and Hamstring Flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning. 26: 1130-1141
Fleck, S. J., & Kraemer, W. J. (2014). Designing resistance training programs (4th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Jeffreys, I. (2007). Warm-up revisited: The ramp method of optimizing warm-ups. Professional Strength and Conditioning, 6, 12-18.