Coach Tom Craggs talks us though the importance of warming up correctly before hard sessions and races.
We live in a busy world and all too often we find ourselves fitting our sessions into tight time windows. This can lead to poor habits and neglecting the basics.
“Simply put a good active warm up sets you up for a good performance” highlights Esther Goldsmith, physiologist at St Mary’s University and Orreco.
“An active warm-up can enhance the primary VO2 response to exercise…which means that your aerobic system can be activated faster. This can improve exercise tolerance and power output”
Structured in the right way a good warm up can also contribute to injury prevention and give you space to work on areas of strength and technique that are often missed.
It’s not just about your muscles, heart and lungs though. A good warm up can play a key role in getting your mind ready to perform. Moving though a consistent, repeatable routine can provide a psychological que or ‘prime’ as a trigger to establish your best mindset pre session or race.
The RAMP warm up
The Raise, Activate, Mobilise, Potentiate (RAMP) protocol was developed by Dr Ian Jeffreys. It allows for an efficient and progressive warm up that focuses not only on preparation for the session or race ahead but also a longer term development process.
The RAMP warm up isn’t designed to be rigid – flex the phases around your own body and what you feel you need. Activation doesn’t need to, for example, come before Mobilisation.
You might but more focus on some of the stages than others depending on your needs. Over time you will narrow down to a tight group of exercises that you know prime you for performance.
As the name suggests this phase of the warm up is about raising your body temperature and heart rate. The goal is to increase muscle and core temperature whilst increasing blood flow. It’s also about getting your brain used to firing the right movement patterns.
“Increasing muscle temperature improves muscle metabolism and muscle fibre conduction velocity – which means that your muscles become more efficient and faster at contracting,” explains Goldsmith. “As heart rate and breathing rate increase, oxygen and glucose (key ingredients in muscle contraction and generation of ATP (energy)) can reach the active muscles quicker.”
Try this: 10-15 minutes of easy relaxed running or more depending on conditions. If you’re in a group session start slowly, chat, communicate and be patient. I see a lot of runners go straight out at six minute miles to warm up….we are not a patient society.
There is no reason why you can’t add variation with speed ladders or mini hurdles around the easy running. Low front and side skips with arms swings can also be good to mix in. Why not add a few hundred metres worth of slightly quicker running towards the end where you practice grabbing a water bottle as if in a race environment?
In this phase of the warm up the goal is to engage your key running muscle groups. There are plenty of ways you can do this with bodyweight exercises including walking lunges and squatting exercises, sumo shuffles and plank walkouts. Over the years I have tended to find simple exercises with bands the most effective way of achieving muscle activation.
Try this: Using a looped physio band exercises such as side stepping with the band around your shins or thighs, back steps with the band around your ankles, and knee lifts to activate hip flexors with the band around your feet.
The internet is a fantastic resource for exploring more options and correct technique so have a look and include three or four key activation exercises over 5-10 minutes.
Physiologist Goldsmith continues that “there is some evidence that including active stretching into a warm up can help prevent injury, partly due to neural activation and, therefore, improved biomechanics after a warmup.” This is where the mobilisation phase comes in.
It’s is all about mobilising and in some cases increasing the range of movement around your joints. Again you can include quite a range of different exercises some of which will double as activation exercises.
Try this: From the classic leg swings, to hamstring sweeps, to carioca to more technique heavy exercises like hurdle walk overs the options are extensive. Focus on dynamic movements rather than static stretching which can decrease muscle tension and elastic storage and therefore inhibit performance.
Potentiation is all about getting your body ready to run and your neuromuscular system switched on to move fast.
“Incorporating explosive, activation exercises into a warm up could improve neural mechanisms: this is known as the post-activation potentiation. Your neurones almost become primed to a movement, and so can ‘fire’ faster when you are actually performing it in your session.” confirms Goldsmith.
Faster more dynamic movements and lower level plyometric drills come in here, and of course strides.
A word for coaches here – the trick is to balance getting technically correct exercises that are performed well, whilst also maintaining the raised body temperature from early in the warm up. If you have talked through a drill for 5-10 minutes you’ve lost that already.
Try this: Start with really simple drills such as straight leg kick outs, pogos, ankle and knee cuts are a good start and build them up as you get more competent. With time you can build to incorporate A and B Skip Drills and other more complex movement patterns.
The final stage is to get running. Include several sets of strides over 80m or so. Aim to run with releaxed speed, not sprinting but running at 80% or so of maximum your speed, running on clouds. If you are warming up for a race I’d recommend adding one two longer strides of 150m-200m at race pace.