Almost everyone will have at least a vague idea of what constitutes a warm-up for exercise. Most people will envision a light jog, perhaps followed by a few static stretches. However, as many athletes and coaches will be aware, the science of warm-ups is a complex one that has evolved over the years – as Jamie French, a Coach Education Tutor for England Athletics, highlighted in one of our recent coaching webinars.
As Jamie, who is also North of England’s Regional Jumps Lead and British Athletics Para Academy Northern Jumps coach, began: “When we think of the sorts of warm-ups we may have seen in our youth, we invariably think of being sent on a couple of laps jogging around the football pitch or track…”
Much has changed since those times, he said. Around the year 2003 scientific papers highlighted that dynamic stretching could have some benefits over static equivalents. It was realised “that a more dynamic approach to our warm-ups helped our athletes to increase their performance in a number of different ways.”
Then from 2007 onwards, the acronym RAMP (Raise, Activate, Mobilise, Potentiate) started to become a buzzword when it came to warm-ups.
Jamie advised in his webinar: “The notion of a dynamic warm-up was embraced but with a little bit more of a scientific notion, utilising a relatively new concept called post-activation potentiation. It was at this point that the RAMP warm-up started to become a little bit more widely known. It saw coaches not only doing more active and dynamic stretches, but it also introduced more high-intense activities at the very end of their warm-ups.”
Static stretching is not dead
As much as dynamic stretching has increased in popularity over the years, static stretching still may have a place. “For athletes who return from injury or with particular impairment, it’s important to perform some form of static stretch during the warm-up, if done within the guidance of a medical professional,” said Jamie.
The potential disadvantage of static stretching is that the amount of force that a muscle can exert after static stretches decreases.
However, as Jamie, who is studying for a PhD in warming up for triple jumpers, said: “We now know that a static stretch that is held actively but without movement for long enough will allow the stretch reflex and that’s the most appropriate for affecting the range of motion. Static stretching is likely to decrease the risk of injury in particularly tight muscles.”
Combining dynamic and static
Mixing up both protocols in a warm-up may lead to greater results, particularly for endurance-based or repeated sprint-type activities, it was increasingly realised during the middle of the last decade. According to Jamie, researchers “found that the overall core body temperature, which is a key determinant as to how fast the metabolic processes within our bodies might act, is slightly higher in a combined protocol. They also found that in lab-based tests, the time to exhaustion was also later within groups that had used a dynamic followed by a static-stretch protocol that finished off with some more dynamic stretches.”
RAMP it up
Having in mind the principles of “Raise, Activate, Mobilise and Potentiate” can help warm-ups replicate the activities for which they are designed to prepare. Coaches should aim to raise the temperature of the muscles and core body and the heart rate. The latter can be increased quite quickly whereas temperature reduces more slowly afterwards.
“The activating and mobilising elements of RAMP are where a few things happen,” continued Jamie. ‘Activating’ the muscles means waking them up and priming them for the subsequent activities whereas ‘mobilising’ refers to the processes of preparing the joints for rapid and more forceful movement. Both of these are achieved at the same time and since 2003 it is thought to have been achieved by means of dynamic stretches.”
The relatively new concept of potentiating refers to “a phenomenon that occurs after maximum muscle contractions and leads, for a short period of time afterwards, to a significant increase in the amount of subsequent force that can be developed.”
He added: “More recent research has shown that relatively modest numbers of repetitions of plyometric exercises or even short, incredibly fast sprints just before a powerful effort might lead to the same potentiating effect.”
Make warm-up time effective
Jamie noted that a proper warm-up can significantly add to the overall training time required for a serious athlete. Therefore, it is crucial that a coach thinks carefully about choosing the right exercises and is alert to whether warm-up stretches can also be effective for other purposes.
“The answer is to try to be as efficient and effective with each exercise as possible and in order to do this we have to know exactly why we are doing each exercise,” he said. “It’s about recognising what are the limitations of each exercise in terms of the value added and asking the question: is there anything more that this exercise can actually give me?”
As many of the dynamic movements can closely mimic the body movements and techniques required in athletics events, it is a chance for coaches to teach new skills and reinforce existing ones.
“An effective warm-up is an opportunity to provide further technical development, reinforcing some of the body shapes that we may see across all event areas but it’s also an opportunity for us to work on our physical preparation,” he said.
“It’s also an opportunity for us to observe our athletes and this is the bit that’s often missed within warm-ups and then make judgments about their body positions rather than go and set out the next series of cones or get a coffee!”
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