For an athlete, the warm up will prepare the body physically to do demanding movements during practice and competition as well as prepare you mentally. Mentally, if you take a few minutes to go through motions similar to what you are about to perform and think about their purpose, you are more likely to push yourself and give your best effort. You want to be focused, in the zone, and ready to give your 100% best. Physically, the warm up will enhance performance and decrease the risk of injury.
Athlete or not, everyone can benefit from learning how to properly warm up and prepare for a game, workout, or class. Whatever you are doing fitness wise, it's best to prep for it to get the best results and decrease your chance of injury!
How does the warm up enhance performance and prevent injury?
When you are inactive and seated during the day, the blood flow in your body is decreased. This means blood is still circulating throughout your body, but it is not reaching the smaller capillaries throughout your skeletal muscles (the muscles that are in charge of moving your bones). Within 10 to 20 minutes of warming up, the capillaries open up and blood flow to the muscles is increased by 70 to 75%. You will also increase your body temperature. This is beneficial because hemoglobin (the transporter of oxygen in your blood) works better at slightly higher temperatures. A slight increase in temperature also means your muscles will more easily contract and relax, which you be doing repeatedly for training or competition.
Also during the warm up, you should be replicating similar moves to what you are about to perform. Doing this will activate your Central Nervous System (think brain and nerves) which sends information to your muscles and tells them what to do. All of this together means better performance from you the athlete and in turn also a decreased chance of injury. If muscles are warmed up and ready to move, there is a decreased chance of pulling a muscle. If your Central Nervous System is prepped, your brain will relay messages to your muscles faster telling them how to react which can also help prevent injury when you can react faster. There is always a chance for injury especially when you are playing a high impact and fast moving sport (which is pretty much all of them), but when you take care of your body you are more able to fight the risk of injuring yourself.
How long should I warm up?
Generally, one should take about 10 to 20 minutes to prep the body for what's ahead. Starting off a little slower and transitioning to a faster pace during the warm up is a good idea. Think of starting off with a brisk walk and jog, moving to mobility and dynamic stretching, and then going into a quick run or movements related to your sport. For volleyball, you might practice your approach. Baseball you might work on short sprints. Football might be doing a few footwork drills for speed and catching the ball. Think about your position and what movements you perform during training or competition.
What should be included in the warm up?
First off, I want to say I'm positive you all have very knowledgeable coaches and trainers that know how to get you ready for your specific sport. I still want to teach you some of the best proven methods towards training and competition so that way, if you feel you are not doing enough in your warm up for working out on your own, you have an idea of how to set up a proper warm up.
There is a lot you can do in the warm up, but for the warm up to serve the purpose of enhancing performance and preventing injury as well as getting you ready mentally, the warm up should include at least a few basic staples. As an athlete, you should never be told to just take a couple laps and that will be your total warm up. This can work for the average person who is about to do a low-impact workout, but as an athlete you are putting your body through a variety of motions at different speeds and need to be ready.
The warm-up procedure that I am a huge fan of was developed by Dr. Jeffreys and can be easily remembered and constructed. It's divided into three different phases that looks like this:
- Activate and Mobilize
As you can see, RAMP is all you need to remember to get a great warm up in. Now let's go through each phase
Phase 1 - Raise
When we say Raise, we are talking about a variety of bodily processes we want to get moving and "raised" in order for our bodies to be physically ready. The list includes:
- Body Temperature
- Heart Rate
- Respiration Rate
- Blood Flow
- Joint Viscosity (the definition of viscosity is to be thick and sticky due to friction. A joint is the physical connection between two or more joints. If you ever hear about someone saying they have stiff joints or bones, it means they have a high joint viscosity - it's almost like they have sticky joints!)
While yes, a jog around the field or court could help with the listed processes, it is more beneficial and effective to do movements that will be included in your movements during the game or practice at a slower and more concentrated pace. These movements could include:
- Skipping and sprint movement drills such as A-skips, B-skips, and karaoke
- Change of direction drills such as the T-drill
- Squatting, lunging and different animal crawls
Phase 2 - Activate and Mobilize
The goal in this phase is to activate your muscles and get your muscle groups working as a unit and also get your joints and muscles moving through certain ranges of motion. Examples you can do during this portion include:
- Band routines such as monster walks or banded shuffles
- Balance work
- Supermans and inchworms
- Sumo shuffles
- Spinal mobility work such as flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation (bending forward, bending back, side to side, and twisting)
General movements will work for most sports, but you should also focus on individualized movements depending on your needs. Say you are an athlete playing a sport where you throw or serve overhand and have shoulder mobility issues or are rehabbing an injury. You might then need to do additional band work for your shoulder and warm up your rotator cuff. Might I add, doing this as a pre-hab move isn't too bad of an idea.
Phase 3 - Performance
This is the part of warm up where you really want to focus in and mentally prepare yourself but also get your body ready to do sport specific motions. The first two phases of the warm up will start a little slower in order to prep your body and literally to "warm" you up as mentioned before. This part of the warm up you are doing sport specific drills and will move much faster. For example, if you play volleyball the "pepper" drill might be incorporated. If you play soccer you might work on some passing drills. Think about replicating the exact movements you would be doing during the game or match.
Even if you aren't an athlete, taking 10-20 minutes before training and following the RAMP method will help you get the most out of your session. It may not be the most glorious or fun part of the workout or competition, but it is still one of the most important. How you prep will determine how you perform!
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