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by Thomas Kurz
In this article you will learn about properly warming up for a workout so as to reduce the likelihood of injuries and to increase the effectiveness of your workout.
A properly designed workout includes the following parts:
1. The introduction, where the coach briefly explains the task
2. The general warm-up, including cardiovascular warm-up and general stretching
3. The sport-specific warm-up, where movements resemble more closely the actual subject of the workout
4. The main part of the workout, when the main task is realized
5. The cool-down
6. The closing, summing up fulfillment of the tasks and dismissal of the group
This general structure of a workout is conditioned by the changes in the athlete’s work capability when exercising. At first, the work capability rises, then oscillates around a certain optimal level, and eventually declines at the end of the workout.
As the work capability rises and falls, so does the intensity of exercises. A curve representing the changing intensity of exercise during a workout starts low and very gradually rises during the warm-up to reach the level of intensity planned for the main part of the workout. During the main part, the average intensity may reach a plateau and then fall down during the cool-down. The plateau of intensity may be an average of many consecutive “peaks” and “valleys,” for example, peaks of higher intensity during a boxer’s rounds and valleys during the breaks between the rounds. The average intensity of the main part reaches different values during workouts with different tasks. During a workout with mostly technical exercises, the average intensity is lower than during a workout with mostly conditioning exercises or fighting practice. The higher the intensity of a workout, the more time is dedicated to warm-up and cool-down.
A regular workout begins with a gathering of the athletes, taking attendance, and explaining the task or tasks. The duration of the whole introduction indicates the degree of professionalism of the coach and the motivation of the athletes: the briefer, the better. In the well-run training program, each task is based on the previous one. This makes lengthy demonstrations and explanations unnecessary. The warm-up follows the introduction.
Warming up has to prepare all systems of the body in order for the athlete to perform at top efficiency. It has to affect the heart, blood vessels, nervous system, muscles and tendons, and the joints and ligaments. The goals of the warm-up are: an improved elasticity and contractibility of muscles, greater efficiency of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, a shorter reaction time, improved perception, better concentration, improved coordination, and regulation of emotional states, especially before competitions. All these changes occur when the body temperature is increased by muscular effort (Sozanski 1981a). Warm-up regulates emotional states because the flow of impulses from working muscles (respective motor and sensory nerve centers, actually) calms down an overly excited nervous system, but in the case of “start apathy” it stimulates an overly inhibited nervous system (Sozanski 1981a). For overly excited athletes, warm-up should include slow exercises that require precision, of high complexity but well known. For the apathetic athlete, warm-up should include simple and easy exercises that require fast reaction, fast-paced movements, and agility, and that are conducted in a very energetic manner (Czajkowski 1994).
Warm-up should start with exercises of low intensity and then progress to the intensity of the exercises that are the main subject of the workout. It is an error to start a warm-up with high-intensity exercises. Such an intensive start reduces the athlete’s work capacity needed for effectively carrying out tasks of the main part of the workout. Intensive exercises quickly use up stores of muscle glycogen and increase the level of lactate in blood. The higher the blood level of lactate, the lower is the use of free fatty acids for energy (Romanowski 1973). Conversely, the greater the use of free fatty acids for energy, the more work an athlete can perform before fatiguing.
The principles used in arranging the exercises of the warm-up are: from distant joints to proximal (to the center of the body), and from one end of the body to the other (top to bottom or vice versa), ending with the part of the body that will be used first in the next exercise. This last principle applies to all parts of a workout.
The whole warm-up before the main part of a workout should take 20–40 minutes. The length of the warm-up depends on the task and intensity of work that will follow it. The greater the intensity of the workout, the longer its warm-up should be. Speed, strength, and difficult technical workouts should have longer warm-ups than aerobic fitness or endurance workouts.
A good coach will rarely repeat the same sequence of warm-up exercises in different workouts. The tasks of the workouts change and the warm-up has to be built of the exercises that best prepare the athletes for the current task. Usually the task-specific part of the warm-up lasts five to ten minutes. A specific warm-up should blend with the main part of the workout. If several tasks have to be realized during a workout (for example, gymnastic techniques on different apparatus), then each task may be preceded by its own specific short warm-up.
A general warm-up should start with a few minutes of aerobic activity—for example, jogging, shadowboxing, or any exercise or game having a similar effect on the cardiovascular system. The one exception: Don’t do jumping jacks.
Why not jumping jacks? Because there is no technique in sports that is similar to and can be improved by doing jumping jacks, but what is more important jumping jacks can neurologically disorganize a person (Diamond 1979). Jumping jacks, even for normal persons, can cause regression to an out-of-sync, homolateral pattern of locomotion (left arm swings forward with the left leg, right arm with right leg) and “a vague feeling of confusion” (Diamond 1979).* An instructor who makes athletes do jumping jacks shows ignorance of exercise physiology, proper methods of training, and pedagogy. Jumping jacks raise the blood level of lactate before the main part of the workout and they are not a lead-up exercise for any technique.
Flexibility improves with an increased blood flow in the muscles, so after your aerobic activity, you can follow with dynamic stretches—for example, leg raises to the front, sides, and back, and arm swings. Leg raises are to be done in sets of ten to twelve repetitions per leg. Arm swings are to be done in sets of five to eight repetitions. The athlete should do as many sets as it takes to reach his or her maximum range of motion in any given direction. Usually, for properly conditioned athletes, one set in each direction is enough.
Doing static stretches before a workout that consists of dynamic actions is counterproductive. The goal of the warm-up, which is to improve coordination, elasticity and contractibility of muscles, and breathing efficiency, cannot be achieved by doing static stretches, isometric or relaxed. Isometric tensions will only make the athlete tired and decrease coordination. Passive, relaxed stretches, on the other hand, have a calming effect and can even make an athlete sleepy.
Static stretches reduce maximal strength (Kokkonen et al. 1998) and impair activity of the tendon reflexes (Rosenbaum and Hennig 1995). By making fast dynamic movements immediately after a static stretch, an athlete may injure the stretched muscle.
The more intensive the effort to come and the lower the temperature, the more an athlete has to warm up the muscles (but an excessively intense warm-up that some athletes do on cold days is counterproductive).
A higher temperature of the environment does not make warming up unnecessary. It only requires a lowering of the intensity of exercises in the general warm-up (Sozanski 1981b). Warming up should involve a gradual increase in the intensity of the exercises so by the end of the warm-up, the exercises reach the target intensity planned for the beginning of the main part of the workout.
Toward the end of a warm-up, when it is “specific,” the athlete should use movements that resemble closely the techniques or the task assigned for this workout. An athlete may do easier forms of techniques, but without getting sloppy! What one repeats, one learns, which can betray the athlete in a crucial moment of competition, causing him or her to do a substandard technique.
* The normal pattern of locomotion is heterolateral (left leg and right arm forward). Normal babies, when they first begin to crawl, move in a homolateral pattern (left leg and left arm forward), and as they achieve a higher level of neurological development, progress to a heterolateral pattern. Many children with neurological problems, especially speech and reading difficulties, either have not progressed from a homolateral locomotion pattern to the heterolateral pattern or have regressed to a homolateral pattern typical of more primitive neurological organization. Similar regression occurs in people who are under constant stress. In well people such regression, accompanied by a feeling of confusion, can be caused by a homolateral gait and by other nonheterolateral movements such as bicycling, rowing, weight-pulling or weight lifting, with both arms and especially by jumping jacks. Exercises that use either one limb at a time or use opposite arms and legs do not have this disorganizing effect (Diamond 1979).
References are listed in Science of Sports Training (Kurz 2001).
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