Principles of the Warm Up

Simply running in place or pulling on a leg behind the back doesn’t cut it in the workout prep portion of an exercise session and it especially does not prepare the body for any competitive sport at all! The warm up must get the body ready to perform effectively and efficiently at its peak. Doing so requires attention to raising the heart rate, preparing the nervous system, and the muscles and tendons and the joints and ligaments that hold it all together.

Expected and specific outcomes resulting from the warm up

Improved elasticity of and increased contraction capabilities of the muscles, raising the efficiency of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reduced reaction times via improved neuromuscular connections and transmissions, focused concentration, improved coordination and perception abilities, emotional state normalization particularly before a competitive event takes place. According to Sozanski the warm up regulates the emotional status due to the flow of impulses from the motor and sensory nerve centers to and from the working muscles by calming down an overly excited nervous system. In the case of one who is apathetic (start apathy) to the upcoming event, the warm up stimulates the nervous system.

Just as certain exercises are more appropriate to specific athletes, certain warm-ups are also appropriate to certain individuals. If the athlete is overly excited, their warm up process would involve slow complex exercises requiring precision of movement, but ones that are well known and familiar to the athlete. Just the opposite warm up would be in order for the apathetic athlete. These individuals need simple, easy exercises that are fast paced, requiring fast reactions, coordination and agility while performed in an energetic manner.

The warm up session starts with exercises that are low in intensity, progressing up to the actual work out movements. Starting with high intensity exercises leaves little left in reserve for the main work out. The body quickly uses its stored muscle glycogen and increases the lactate levels in the blood when engaged in high intensity work. When the lactate increases, the free fatty acids decrease, leaving less to help produce energy. You don’t get into your car on a cold morning and go racing out the drive way and onto the expressway at maximum speed. It’s the same for our bodies; warm them up for the tasks ahead.

General principles of arranging warm up exercises normally follow few these guidelines. Start from the distant joints and work toward the center or proximal portion of the body, from one end to the other or from top to bottom or vice versa. The exercises move from one into another so that the end of one move floats directly into the start of the next movement. This is also how a regular strength training session should be set up.

A solid warm-up will take anywhere from twenty to forty minutes for an elite athlete. Many people don’t have the time to take this long so adaptations will have to be made by taking into account the total length of the exercise session. If the intensity of the workout is high then the warm up will, of necessity, be longer. Longer warm up periods would be in order for the explosive sports endeavors such as sprinting and the more difficult technical sessions. Aerobic and endurance exercise periods need much less, as the pre stages of these activities are in and of themselves a warm up.

Repeating the same warm up in successive workouts is not beneficial to the athlete as the goals of each workout are not necessarily the same, thus the warm up should reflect the workout goal. The warm up should prepare the athlete for the workout; bearing this in mind the last minutes of the warm up will be more or less specific to the first training exercises and ultimately blend into the actual workout itself. After the session has started then each different move will be preceded by its own specific but short warm up as the training continues onward.

The general warm up

The runner’s may actually be onto something when they start out on a run-they normally begin at a slower pace than the main portion of the run will be. Any exercise that revs up the cardiovascular system is good except for the time-honored jumping jacks. As mentioned in Thomas Kurz excellent training manual Science of Sports Training, these are contraindicated as a warm up because there is NO technique in any sport that is similar or can be improved by doing these outdated exercises. This activity causes a neurological disorganization in an athlete by causing a regression to an out of sync, homolateral pattern of locomotion resulting in a vague feeling of confusion. Additionally, jumping jacks raise the levels of blood lactate before the main workout and are not a lead in exercise for any lifting technique.

Increased flexibility is a residual effect of the influx of blood into the muscles. Immediately after the aerobic warm up begin with dynamic stretches. Arm and leg rotations to the front, side, rear and in large circles. More leg rotations can be done during this time than arm rotations due to muscle mass involved. Ten to twelve legs compared to five to eight arm rotations. Do as many as necessary to reach full range of motion in any particular direction. Throwers, warming up, would follow a systematic sequence that is specific to the shoulders.

Notice there was no mention of any isometric, relaxed or static stretches before an active workout. Recall the reasons for a warm up:

Improved elasticity of and increased contraction capabilities of the muscles

Reduced reaction times via improved neuromuscular connections and transmissions

Higher breathing efficiencies

The goal is improved performance.

Static stretches tend to relax the joints and decrease potential power output, by some estimates up to 8% and impair the activity of the tendon reflexes. Isometric stretches that are held make an athlete tired while at the same time decreasing coordination abilities. Whereas the passive, relaxed style of stretching has a calming effect on the athlete.

A relaxed, non-optimally coordinated joint and muscle tendon combination is just asking for an injury to happen.

If the temperature is low and the forthcoming activity intense, the warm up must be longer and more intense than if the temperature is high, and the session a low intensity one. Each exercise builds on the previous ones until the final effort has the body ready for the main part of the workout.