Warm-ups most commonly last for approximately 10-30 minutes, meaning all desired content must be strategically factored in this short period of time. Though each warm-up is short, over a long timeframe such as a 12-week training cycle, the accumulation of a 10-30 minute warm-up each session equates to a huge increase in total training time. For example:
- A 15-minute warm-up performed 4 x per week for 12-weeks = 12 hours of training time.
Over a 12-week training cycle, the exercise professional can utilise an additional 12-hours of high-quality training time. This further demonstrates the importance and potential of a strategic and effective warm-up.
In an attempt to advance current performance preparation practices, two primary warm-up models have been developed by Dr. Ian Jeffreys (4) and Mark Verstegen (11). The framework “RAMP” protocol developed by Dr. Jeffreys allows for activities to be easily classified and constructed in the following warm-up sequence:
- Activate and Mobilise
- Potentiate (or Performance in this articles modified variation of the RAMP protocol)
It should be the aim of the exercise professional to have the athletes fully prepared both mentally and physically following the end of the third phase (i.e. potentiation phase) of the RAMP protocol and ready for competition or activity. Each of the three phases of this warm-up model plays an important role in the athlete’s preparation.
Phase 1 – Raise
The aim of the ‘raise’ section is too:
- ↑ Body temperature
- ↑ Heart rate
- ↑ Respiration rate
- ↑ Blood flow
- ↑ Joint viscosity
Although this is often a common practice in the form of a ‘jog around the field’, this is often viewed as a large waste of valuable training time. Whilst the primary aims of this section should match those listed above, it can, and perhaps should be performed using exercises or simplified sports-specific movements which will be abundant during the session. For example, if the athletes are preparing for a technical rugby session, then this section of the warm-up may include low-intensity, multi-directional movements or dynamic range of motion exercises which will be abundant during the session. Some examples of raise exercises may include:
- Sprint technique drills (A-skips, B-skips, Bicycles, Heel cycling, Waterfalls)
- Planned change of direction drills
- Squatting, lunging, or crawling.
Phase 2 – Activate and Mobilise
The aim of this phase of the warm-up is two-fold:
- Activate key muscle groups
- Mobilise key joints and ranges of motion used in the sport or activity
During this phase of the warm-up, typical activation and mobilisation movements include:
- Mini-band routines
- Balance work
- Superman’s and inchworm’s
- Squats and lunges
- Sumo shuffles
- Spinal mobility exercises (flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation)
These exercises may be used for the majority, if not all of the athletes competing in the same training session or activity. However, after the generic group movement exercises have been completed, stricter attention should be paid towards individual preparation requirements. For instance, this may involve exercises prescribed in the athlete’s prehabilitation programme such as specific joint mobilisation exercises, glute-ham exercises, mini-band routines, rotator cuff exercises, balance work and so on. Incorporating these exercises into the warm-up may result in better time utilisation, and therefore perhaps lead to a reduced injury risk and improved performance.
When designing the activation and mobilisation phase, it is essential the strength and conditioning coach carefully considers the fundamental movements and demands imposed by that particular sport or activity. For example, what fundamental movements will occur during a rugby match, or during an Olympic Weightlifting session in the gym? This will allow the coach to be very specific with the movements/exercises selected for the warm-up, and therefore have the best possible chance to effectively prepare the athletes for training or competition and preventing them from injury.
It is encouraged that coaches develop numerous exercises that activate and mobilise the same key muscles, joints, and ranges of motion which can be used for training variability to prevent monotony and emphasise performance improvements. In addition, some exercises may irritate or be painful for some athletes, so having an assortment of backup exercises for the same joints and muscle groups is vital.
Phase 3 – Potentiation or Performance (modified version)
The aim of this phase is to ‘prime’ the athletes for their session or competition.
This phase of the warm-up is fixated on exercises which will directly lead to performance improvements in following activities. Developed using the principle of post-activation potentiation, this phase of the warm-up will now begin to unidentifiably transit into the workout/sport itself, meaning it will begin to incorporate sports-specific activities using rising intensities. This phase serves two primary objectives:
- ↑ Intensity to a comparable level the athletes’ are about to compete in.
- ↑ Improve subsequent performance utilising the effects of post-activation potentiation.
Therefore, the content of the potentiation/performance phase will see high-intensity drills which are highly specific to the sport. For example, the potentiation phase of a sprint session may include sprint-specific drills such 5-10m accelerations, rolling 30-40m sprints, plyometrics and so on. In team-based sports such as football (soccer), this may include the use of plyometrics, reactive agility drills in a chaotic environment, and sprints using various intensities and distances.
An example of potentiation/performance exercises for a technical rugby session may include:
- Plyometric exercises (unilateral and bilateral jumps and bounds)
- Short-moderate distance accelerations and sprints and (0-20m)
- Involvement of tackling pads
- Reactive agility drills (e.g. evasion games in chaotic environments)
After the completion of these three phases and gradually increasing the intensity of the exercises as the warm-up progresses, the athletes should be sufficiently prepared physically for the forthcoming session or competition. Though there are no guidelines in this model in regards to the duration of each phase, this is something that should be tailored by the strength and conditioning coach based on the several factors such as time availability, the athlete’s physical requirements, and content of the main session – to name just a few. Further information on time management for the warm-up is provided in later sections of this article.
Notice how static stretching was not mentioned or included throughout the performance preparation procedure. This has perhaps been the largest debate with regards to warming up over the past several decades. Although it has always been a cornerstone component of warming-up as a method to decrease injury risk and improve performance, there is little evidence, if any, to indicate that pre- or post-exercise static stretching reduces injury (12, 13, 14, 15, 16). Additionally, there is growing research to suggest that pre-exercise static stretching also compromises subsequent performance by reducing force production (17, 18), power output (19), running speed (20), reaction time (21), and strength endurance (22).
Dynamic stretching, however, has been consistently shown to improve subsequent performance (20, 23). Additionally, because dynamic stretching requires the muscle to activate through a range of movement, it is believed that this contributes to the neural activation requirements of warm-ups. As a result, dynamic stretching may be the most appropriate form of mobilisation during warm-ups for most activities and sports which are dynamic in nature.
For a more detailed discussion on stretching and its effects on performance, click on this link – ‘Stretching for Performance’ – coming soon!.