The why's and what's of a warmup
By Liam Fisher, Exercise Physiologist, C.S.C.S. - Founder of MVMT Academy
It's common knowledge that warming up before intense physical activity prevents injuries. In part, this is thought to be due to the beneficial effect physical activity has on the elasticity of our cartilages, ligaments and tendons, as well as synovial fluid, a lubricating matrix found in our joints. But an often overlooked fact, of equal importance is that a sufficient warm up can enhance your physical performance by priming you both mentally and physically.
While sitting reading this post, your body is sending only approximately 15- to 20-percent of blood flow to your skeletal muscles. This is due to most of the small blood vessels known as capillaries within your muscles being closed. Research has shown that after even just 10 minutes of total body exercise, blood flow to the skeletal muscles increases up to 70 to 75 percent and these capillaries open.
In addition to greater blood flow and increased delivery of oxygen, with an increase in physical activity comes an increase in your muscle temperature. This is important as hemoglobin the primary oxygen carrier in your blood releases oxygen to your muscles more readily at a higher temperature. More blood being delivered to the muscles, along with a more efficient exchange of O2 and CO2, coupled with greater removal of CO2 and Lactic acid, means better performance.
Similarly, your muscles have an optimal temperature at which they can contract and relax to produce force. So as the intramuscular temperature increases, so will your strength and speed.
The last piece of the puzzle is the ability of a proper warm up to potentiate the body for specific movement by stimulating neuromuscular functioning. A muscles ability to contract and produce a maximal force relies largely on the central nervous system (CNS). So in order to optimize neuromuscular functioning to perform powerfully, it has been show that an athlete can utilize what is know as post activation potentiation (PAP) or heavy loading of up to 90% of a one rep max, to increase CNS activation for up to 30 minutes post loading. So in terms of a warm-up this means that it is important to achieve at least one burst movement of up 90% of your race intensity prior to, but not more than 30 minutes, before getting to the start line.
So in summary we can use the acronym R.A.M.P
A warmup aims to:
- (R)aise body temperature; generally achieved through light aerobic activity.
- (A)ctivate muscle groups applicable to the movements that follow, generally achieved through light/moderate incremental dynamic body-weight movements
- (M)obilise body segments, through the use of dynamic full body movement to enable full range of motion.
- (P)otentiate the CNS and motor units for specific movement by stimulating neuromuscular functioning.
Part 1: Aerobic- to open up the blood vessels
5 Minutes paddle, run, row or bike at GA1 pace – to stimulate vasodilation, increase cardiac output, and increase muscle temperature
Part 2: Dynamic Movement
Perform 2 to 3 sets - to improve range of motion, beneficial effect on synovial fluid, increased muscle temp, improved coordination, activate involved muscle groups
1. Childs Pose to Up Dog
Bring your knees and feet together while kneeling. Sit with your butt back onto your heels, outstretching your arms in front of you so that your stomach is resting on your thighs. Take a full breath in through your nose, then push into your hands and slowly bring your hips and torso forward keeping as low as possible, breathing out, and then slowly extend your arms, bringing your torso and head up to face the ceiling, your back should be arched with your hips remaining on the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat 5 times
2. Single Leg Glute Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Push Into one heel, squeeze your butt and raise your hips up. Keep one foot on the floor and as if marching, raise your other knee up towards the chest. In a controlled manner return it to the floor and repeat for 10 reps on each side.
Lie with your chest down and arms in a tee position. With your right arm pinned to the floor bring your left leg across your body behind you, aiming to reach your toes all the way to your hand. Return to the floor and repeat on the other side. Perform ten reps on each side
4. Walking Samson Lunge
Perform walking lunges, every time your knee comes down, Pause and reach your hands over your head. When your hands go over your head, make sure your back doesn’t arch. Keep your back nice and upright. Bring your arms down step through on the other side, repeat for 10 reps on each side
5. Arm Circles & Rotations
Standing upright start with your arms at a Tee-position. Slowly start to make circles with your shoulders. Slowly build a wider radius until your hands touch together. Return to the starting position and reverse the dirrection. Once finished the circles again return to the starting Tee position. Keep the feet planted, hips firm and rotate your torso, allow one arm to cross over your chest as you reach the other arm as far behind you as allowed. Quickly change directions and repeat on the other side. You should aim at to perform at least ten of each movement.
Start in a pushup position. Do one pushup, then keeping your hands in a fixed position slowly shuffle your feet forward keeping your legs straight until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Once you can’t take anymore steps, walk your hands back out. That's one rep. Perform ten reps
Start on all fours. Staying low keeping your back flat and parallel to the floor move the opposite leg and arm at the same time and crawl 10m across the floor. Without turning around reverse directions and crawl back to your starting position. Perform 2 laps
Part 3: CNS Priming & PAP
Timing on this portion of the warm-up is key, you don’t want to overdue it and deplete yourself prior to the start line, as your ATP-CP system can take up to 8 minutes to fully recover, however you also don't want to leave your muscles under primed by not stimulating your CNS and creating a post activation potentiation.
This is the most rigorous and also most specific portion of the warm up, so if you are getting on the water then this part of the warmup should be performed on the water. If this is for dryland training, then a series of sprint accelerations & plyos can be substituted.
Typically a sprint progression will include a series of 5-10 x 50 meter or 5-10 x 100 meter wave accelerations, where the athlete focuses on correct technique and staying relaxed while building speed over each distance. These should be done with rolling starts, with increasing speed through each piece with the final one reaching 90-95% of your max speed.
If you are tight for time, decrease the number of accelerations to allow at least 10 minutes before your start time to allow for sufficient recovery. As noted if this is being performed for dryland training, a series of sprints accelerations of up to 50 meters can be utilized along with a series of 3x5 maximal vertical jumps and broad jumps to stimulate a PAP response.
Final notes on the warm up
Not every athlete is the same, futher it has been shown that with increased cardiovascular fitness, it may take longer for an athlete to 'warm-up' and reach a sufficient degree of cardiovascular, muscular, and mental priming. So start now and figure out what works for you.
Not just another beard, Liam Fisjer has a BSc (Hons) Double Major in Exercise Physiology & Medical Physiology or in his own words "a BSc in pickin' it up and puttin' it down, in both health and in sickness". This guy likes to get you moving and at the same time make sure you understand why you're doing it! When he's not studying up on new training techniques, this all-rounder can be found in the gym pumping iron, or shredding some gnar on his bike, his skis or his paddle board. He's worked with everyone from the pro's to the joe's and the next person he takes on might just be you!