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How to nail a perfect warm-up

Written by 
Published in Athletics
Tuesday, 14 November 2023 06:48
Coach John Shepherd looks at how to perfect the final moments before a training session or competition

An athletes warm-up is vital it should be progressive and designed to assist performance during the subsequent workout. In fact, its best to view the warm-up as an integral part of the workout.

RAMP it up

Warm-ups should follow whats known as the RAMP protocol:

Raise: Body temperature.

Activate: Perform some gentle movements to get mind and muscles in gear.

Mobilise: Continue with faster, more specific, movements which directly. prepare the body for whats to follow.

Potentiate: Step movements up a gear so that they stimulate the central nervous system to increase power outputs and facilitate dynamic movement.

Im surprised by the number of athletes who just turn up at a track and dont raise their body temperature by doing a lap or two before activating and mobilising.

Muscles are malleable and respond best with heat in them. Indeed, if you are late for a competition and have to warm-up quickly then some jogging, fast running and sprint drills will get you ready relatively safely (but dont be late in the first place!).

Distance runners may see a two-mile slow run as a warm-up. Yes, that can work but if they went straight into some fast intervals then theres the risk of injury as they will have neither worked their muscles over a bigger range of movement, nor at speed specifically they will not have mobilised or potentiated. Whatever the event, it is better to follow the RAMP method.

Pole vaulters warm up in Eugene (Getty)

Stretching

When it comes to stretching the Activate and Mobilise parts of the RAMP method its best that any static stretches are not held for longer than 10-20 seconds. Thoughts have changed a little and research indicates that stretches of this length should not hamper subsequent dynamic activity. Indeed, athletes who have had a long day at work may need time to work out stiff backs and hips which can be caused by long-term desk work.

However, it is best to use more active stretches, such as arm swings, seated legs cycles and prone side-side to spine mobilisations. These can progress to more specific movements such as sprint posture drills (where the athlete stands on one leg with the other thigh elevated and held parallel to the ground).

From this position arms and legs can be moved as if running. Speed can also be progressed and in doing so hamstrings, for example, will perform eccentric action (muscle lengthening) which will not only prepare the athlete for sprinting but also pre-condition that is, specifically strengthen to combat injury. This is a further benefit of a well thought out warm-up.

Potentiation magic

Potentiation is perhaps the key benefit of following a RAMP sequence warm-up. This is the part when the athlete can almost trick their body into elevated performance. Simply put, performing certain movements at specific speeds, which engage muscles and movements normally in a way related to the event the athlete is going to perform in, will result in enhanced performance.

Examples? A long jumper could perform take-off drills at speed or a sprinter quick leg speed drills.

Less specifically, jump squats can trigger a potentiated response. This is one reason why sprinters often perform a tuck jump when going into their blocks.

Potentiation can even involve weights or the use of bands. At the more advanced level throwers may perform some heavy weights exercises (squats, cleans) and throws with their implement or derivatives (jav-balls, for example) to gain some general and specific potentiation respectively, before they go into the competition environment to perform some proper throws.

Of course, these potentiation inclusions need pre-planning, with thought given to what facilities and access the competition venue offers.

Environment

The best warm-ups also need to reflect and respond to the environment. At the recent World Championships, for example, the high temperatures resulted in cooling strategies being employed. Ice vests and cooling treatments in warm-up can reduce the rise of the bodys core temperature and therefore preserve energy. Hydration and nutrition are also inclusions which should be factored into warm-ups.

Plan

If you want to maximise performance, then dont pay short shrift to the warm-up. Craft different ones which relate to the specifics of the session that will follow and account for the needs of the event, your athlete and the environment.

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