By Federico Bougain, Strength and Power Coach/Personal Trainer.
Any experienced and prepared coach who pays a little attention, whether in a weight room, an athletics track, or a training field, will frequently encounter individuals who are either performing their warm-up incorrectly or not doing it at all.
This will be harmful to the athlete, leading to possible injury or, at a minimum, a deficient approach to training or competition and thus poor performance during the main effort.
We will analyze some commonplaces and clarify certain obscure points about this problem. This affects a considerable number of athletes and is of vital importance for those who train for any sport and want to have high performance in their competitions.
We understand warm-up to be the set of activities or exercises prior to the main effort. These efforts can take place in the framework of training sessions or in competition situations or tests that athletes perform.
With an adequate warm-up, there will be an increase in performance capacity, which is determined by the changes that will occur in the central nervous and muscular systems as body temperature increases.
Objectives of warm-up activities or exercises:
- Ensure the effective functioning of the body during the main effort, preventing a crisis of adaptation and the accumulation of waste products in tissues during the course of it.
- Prepare the athlete’s body to be ready to develop high work capacity.
- Reach the usual work zone with adequate adaptation through minimal effort.
- Physically, psychologically, and physiologically prepare the individual for the start of an activity that is more intense than normal (training or competition).
- Prevent injuries.
- Improve neuromuscular predisposition to performance.
- Increase mental attitude for training or competition.
Types of warm-up.
There are two types of warm-up: general and specific. In the general warm-up, the aim is to increase the body’s functional potential.
In the specific warm-up, the purpose is to establish an optimal relationship between the upcoming exercise and the central nervous system activities related to that movement.
How to perform an effective warm-up:
To achieve marked effectiveness, the athlete must generate a slight sweat. When this occurs, it means that the body has increased its temperature by approximately 1°C.
This temperature increase generates the necessary adaptations to carry out training with the desired performance, preventing possible injuries.
It is usual to observe a large number of individuals performing warm-up in a counterproductive way. The most common errors that can be observed are performing flexibility exercises with the aim of warming up, jogging, or doing high-intensity sprints. In weight rooms, the most usual is the absence of the warm-up stage, starting weight training directly.
Flexibility work should be done after the warm-up and not as part of it. The reason is that tissues stretch more and better when they are less viscous and warmer, and muscles contract more quickly and intensely the higher their temperature within safe physiological limits.
Stretching work performed after warm-up, if any, is not considered flexibility training but is used to achieve maximum joint amplitude and muscle length, but not to increase it, as it would be worked on at the end of the training. Similarly, before jogging or running, it is necessary to raise body temperature and leave the flexibility work for later.
Increasing body temperature increases muscle electrical activity; after stimulation, when the temperature drops, electrical activity decreases.
Local temperature increase increases strength -as measured by dynamometers- and the time during which muscles are able to maintain tension or execute a given volume of work.
The ideal warm-up consists of gently pedaling on a stationary bike, which has virtually no impact on the ankles, knees, and hips. Then, large muscle groups such as the abdominal wall and lower back should be mobilized with various exercises. These exercises should be performed one after the other and at a sufficient pace. Next, it is advisable to perform a general joint mobility work until achieving actions that reach wider ranges of motion and at higher intensities.
Finally, specific exercises for the sport to be practiced should be included. After completing the warm-up, the individual should not wait more than 8 minutes before starting the workout. A pause longer than 8 minutes can nullify its physiological values. However, experience shows that the muscular system can maintain body temperature for longer periods, provided that the individual wears appropriate clothing to avoid losing heat. On the other hand, when the body temperature decreases, strength decreases, and contraction time increases. For example, the muscle work capacity at a temperature of 18°C is between 50% and 66% shorter than normal.
Physiological effects that occur in the body:
- Increase in body temperature.
- Decrease in muscular and intra-articular fluid viscosity (friction between substances).
- Increase in heart rate and consequently, in minute volume (amount of blood that passes through the heart in one minute).
- Increase in blood pressure.
- Release of glucose into circulation.
- Increase in elastic properties of muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Intensification of blood circulation in capillaries.
- Increase in systolic volume.
- Dilation of arteries and capillaries that supply blood to muscles.
- Facilitation of nerve impulse transmission.
Factors to consider when planning a warm-up:
When selecting an appropriate warm-up before exercise, the coach should observe some important points.
- The individual characteristics of the athlete, such as age, level of physical conditioning, history of injuries, and general activity profile.
- The type of activity to be performed and the duration of the effort.
- Ambient temperature and weather factors.