A bad warm up can injure you, No warm up will hinder you but a good warm up will have you firing on all cylinders
Take an F1 car with it’s thousands of complex components and interlinking systems, honed to provide pure speed and allow the driver to get around the circuit at breakneck speeds. From ‘cold’, this car will not move anywhere near as quickly as it is capable of because for peak performance it needs warming up.
The same can be said of the human body, only the components and systems are about as hi-tech as you can get. Amongst the many systems that each body carries, it is the respiratory, circulatory, muscular & nervous systems which all combine to carry out the movements that our brain tells the body to perform.
If all of these systems are ‘cold’, the outcome of the movements that are produced can also be sub optimal.
Running Specific Warmups
Sport specific warm ups are essential in getting your body ready for the specific demands you are about to put it through
For sports specific warmups, we look to breakdown techniques used in a particular sport.
By practising a specific part of a technique, we can develop and improve it for enhanced performance when reintroduced into the full technique needed in the sport.
By now you should have finished your general warm up, dynamic stretching and your plyometrics before we move onto this section.
A running specific warmup will focus on 2 key parts/elements of stronger, more powerful and efficient run: the arm drive and leg cycle. Thinking of the body as a chain of body parts all linked together that all combine and work together to help you run.
If there is a weakness somewhere, then the rest of the chain has to compensate (which can lead to injury) to continue your run. So if we address the weaknesses then the chain should perform much better as a whole.
|Keeping the body upright, elbows bent 90 degrees drive the elbows back so that the hands pass the hip bones, whilst the other arm drives forwards (not across the body) bringing the hand up to shoulder height. Here we are focusing on power generated from a correct arm drive phase.||1min|
|Gently jogging along, we concentrate on the heel lift which allows the runner to prepare the leg for the follow through to knee lift and a smoother overall leg cycle.||1min|
|Here we concentrate on powering the knee through to the front to encourage the last phase of the foot coming through to land as close to underneath the runner’s centre of gravity as possible.||1min|
|Another drill to warm up the legs and neural paths; the runner lifts their knees when their thighs have come through to the front of their body alternately.||1min|
Once you have completed your warm up you will be well and truly ready for your run. You will have prepared your body so that those first few miles are no more difficult than they need to be and should help you secure a great time.
Warming up prepares our body (or components in the case of the car) for what is to come. It prepares all of the systems for the greater stresses that we’re going to place upon them when we proceed to the main event.
A warm up will help prepare our respiratory system for the increased demands we will place on it in terms of delivering oxygen into our bloodstream and expelling the waste product, carbon dioxide (CO2), with every breath.
It will prepare our circulatory system for the increased heart rate we require to deliver the oxygenated blood to the muscles that need it most.
A warm up will also get the electric signals firing across our bodies, telling all the different muscles and organs of our body exactly what to do.
We will, ideally, warm up by practising the movements that we’re going to demand of during the main activity so that when it comes to the main exercise our bodies’ systems are all ready to work together and deliver the output we’re asking of it.
Basics of Movement
When bodily movement occurs, there are 2 types of stress/pressure being placed against our joints: that of gravity and friction. The greater these two are applied, the harder it will be to move the joint.
Our bodies are already pretty heavy due to dense muscles, bones and anything extra that we may be carrying; this means that there is already significant weight for us to move before we even consider adding any weight/impacts to it in the form of dumbbells or running etc.
If we look at the 2 main systems which provide movement, we see that our skeleton is typically made up of 206 bones and the muscular system over 600 muscles.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate mainly on the muscles and bones that are active around the freely-movable joints of our bodies; called the synovial joints. These are called synovial since they are found in a cavity between bones.
The synovial membrane is filled with synovial fluid which acts as a lubricant & shock absorber for the joint. This is why our bones don’t grind away to nothing when we move them.
When the joint is cold, this synovial fluid is thick and viscous which means the joint won’t move quite as freely due to the fluid’s sticky nature. As the temperature around the joint rises during a warm-up however, this fluid becomes much runnier and thinner and is able to better lubricate and protect the joints.
The muscles also work much better when warm, being able to contract and relax much quicker than when cold (think of a cold squash ball or elastic band). As a result, we get more efficient movements of the body and a better performance overall.
Increased Risk of Injury
So if we consider the scenario that we’re going to ask our body to run 5k, the warm will be the difference between:
a) your body and the joints involved warm and ready to shift all of the intrinsic weight that it already carries, better protecting your body against the impact and friction that is about to be placed on it; or no warm up leading to
b) a large increased risk of injury running the 5k from a cold start, muscles and joints not prepared for the stress you’re about to place on it.
A great way to imagine the stress on your body is to view muscles like toffee, exercising is similar to trying to bend and twist the toffee like muscle. When cold it is more likely to tear and crack whereas when warm there is much greater pliability.
That’s not to say that the benefits of a warm up are all physical.
Beyond the Physical
It will also help us mentally prepare for the task in hand, both in terms of your body being accustomed to what you’re asking it to do.
Now that we know why we should warm up, we can now better understand how to warm up. Specifically, we understand that we want to warm up and give the body a ‘practice’ of the exercise we’re going to perform, so that the joints can warm up to better perform and protect us from injury.
It is worth noting that the warm up routines you had to do at school before gym or P.E. may be of very little use to you now. Often warm ups at school consisted of static stretches, normally flailing an arm behind your back or trying to touch your toes.
Avoid these warm up routines as if they were the plague and instead follow the guidelines below for an effective warm up that will set you up for maximum performance.
How to Warm Up Effectively
We can categorise warm ups in 4 types or stages that can be used progressively in preparation for exercise and take around 30minutes to complete:
2. Dynamic Stretching
4. Sports Specific - Running
It is vital that we warm up progressively to avoid risk of injury.
A General warm up is the first stage of any warm up that involves gentle movements to begin raising body temperature. The aim is to get some heat into the joints and muscles through light jogging, arm swinging and generally any movement that will get your heart rate up without stressing the body.
The general warm up techniques are generic movements that will gently raise body temperature without putting much strain on the body. Below is an example programme that you can use for your warm up:
|Stationary Jog||5 mins|
|Total Time||5 mins|
The next development includes gently moving other body parts in progressive stages such as below
|Head Rolls||30 secs|
|Arm Circles||30 secs|
|Shoulder Shrugs||30 secs|
|Hip Rotations||30 secs|
|Total Time||3 mins|
All in all your general warm up should take around 8 minutes to complete and your body will have gone from 'cold' to warmer and looser, it is time now to move onto some dynamic stretching before we are almost ready for our event.
For years we have been told that static stretching is essential in warming up but dynamic stretching is the new gold standard for warm up techniques.
By now you should have completed your general warm up techniques and are now already loose and ready to stretch. The core temperature should have been raised and muscles warmed up, now we move onto a more dynamic stretching routine moving joints through their range of movement.
Attempting to stretch (think back to PE or gym lessons of old) cold muscles isn't recommended. Studies have shown that static stretching can increase the risk of injury and that it is more productive to your workout & performance if you use dynamic stretching before a session of exercise.
Static stretches after a session, when the focus is on lengthening the muscles that will have shortened through multiple contractions, can be a very effective method of stretching but for the warm up, dynamic stretching, which focuses more on range of movements required for the exercise, is the way to go.
Begin the dynamic stretching session with some more CV work;
|Progressive Shuttles x5|
|Increase speed each shuttle finishing at 70% sprint intensity||25m|
Next we introduce some functional movements to begin extending our muscles range of motion as they become more supple.
|Leg Swings||1 min|
|Side Steps||1 min|
|Torso Twists||1 min|
Now we are getting significantly warmer we can begin to push the body harder.
|Progressive Shuttles x5|
|Increase speed each shuttle finishing at 80% sprint intensity||25m|
We can introduce some more explosive movements now as we gear up for the event
|Walking Knee Hugs||1 min|
|Alternating Lunge Twists||1 min|
|Jogging Heel Flicks||1 min|
Finish off with some harder running.
|Progressive Shuttles x5|
|Increase speed each shuttle finishing at 80% sprint intensity||25m|
Plyometric Exercises are a type of exercise designed to produce fast, powerful movements that athletes make maximum use out of in training and in warming up
Having put your body through a general & dynamic stretching routine you're ready to progress to plyometrics. These drills require more power generation & faster contractions from your muscles to prime your body for more explosive workouts.
Plyometric movements are to be undertaken when we are sure that there is heat in the joints and muscles, we can then progress safely to movements that require a little more power generation from the limbs to get the body ready to work against gravity, friction and external weight. This is where we are ready for bounding, running, heel flicks, high knees and other higher intensity movements.
We should begin this phase of the warm up with some high intensity running;
|5x Sprints @ 70%||25m|
Follow it with some explosive movements
|Star Jumps||30 Jumps|
|Squat Jumps||15 Jumps|
Another Running Interval to finish
|5x Sprints @ 80%||25m|
So far we have been warming up for nearly 30 minutes and our bodies are physically ready for action, the final phase of the warm up is to introduce some sport specific work to ensure we perform at our very best.
Warm up exercises before running video:
The final thought on warm ups is that if we consider track and field athletes such as Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt; we saw them perform to the best of their abilities at the Olympics. They performed to the absolute best that they had trained their bodies to produce. What we didn’t see was the warm ups they performed beforehand.
None of these athletes would have performed as well without a proper warm up and none of them would have dreamed of not warming up at all. Although you may not be an elite athlete the same rules applies to you; warm up before your next race or exercise session to get the most out of your body.