As a community of strength coaches and personal trainers, I believe that we are improving. The general warm up consisting of “10 minutes on the bike” or jogging the periphery of the soccer field are gradually being replaced by more varied movements that include dynamic mobility and speed, agility and quickness drills.
The biggest problem with “10 minutes on the bike” or jogging the periphery of the field is not that the client or athlete does not get warm, because they do. The biggest problem with this type of generic warm up is that it COULD have been MUCH more productive. The biggest problem with this type of warm up is that it is a waste of time.
No client or athlete wants to waste ANY training time. Competitive athletes are always seeking an edge on the competition and our fitness clients want their results “yesterday”. 🙂
Our challenge is to make every single component of the training session as productive as possible, which includes INDIVIDUALIZING; not only the main training program but also the general and the specific warm up.
In this article I want to share four main philosophies and strategies that pertain to the general warm up.
1. Gain and edge (on the competition)
In 1996, on my first ever trip to the United States; I attended the yearly conference for the National Strength and Conditioning Association in Atlanta. I had signed up for the pre-conference session with Vern Gambetta and James Farentinos. The topic was plyometric training. I can still hear Gambetta saying, “All athletes want to gain an edge on the competition.”
In the case of the warm up it is about accumulated effects. Legendary basketball Coach Pat Riley was known for asking each player on the team to improve just 1 or 2 percent; not much if we look at one player only, but we add the accumulated effects of EACH player improving 1-2 percent, it makes a significant impact in the team’s performance.
By the same token, it may not seem important to make the warm up more effective, if you look at only one day of training. However, if one athlete, or each athlete on a team, improves the effectiveness of the general warm up with 1 percent EACH day for the entire season (and several seasons in a row) it makes a significant difference in the team’s performance.
The fitness client is not seeking an edge on the competition. The fitness client is seeking an edge in the form of the most effective workouts possible and the best results as quickly as possible.
2. Prepare the body’s systems for the coming practice sessions, while AT THE SAME TIME creating carefully selected training adaptations that work synergistically with or that complement the main training program.
Most textbooks on exercise physiology state, in various ways, that the purpose of the general warm up is to adjust the body’s systems from rest to activity. These adjustments include: Cardio respiratory adjustment (increased heart rate and distribution of the blood from the internal organs to the muscles), morphological adjustment (increased temperature of tissues), endocrine adjustment (release of endogenous hormones) and joint lubrication (to decrease friction between joint surfaces). However, what if we can accomplish more with the warm up than just ‘getting warm”?
By carefully selecting the warm up exercises, the general warm up can result in adjustment of the body’s systems AND improved posture, improved static flexibility, improved dynamic flexibility, improved joint health.
By considering the general warm up and the main training program together, exercises can be chosen that add volume to a key movement pattern in the main training program or provide maintenance of strength in a muscle group, or technical proficiency in a compound movement that may not currently be in the training program.
3. The duration and volume of the general warm up should be as little as needed to get ready for the beginning of the main training program.
A part of my athletic background includes gymnastics and track and field. In these two sports, what was called the general “warm up” was approximately a 45-minute segment, well beyond what was needed to actually be ready for the beginning of the main training program.
No one wants to warm up, just to warm up, therefore it is common sense that the warm up should be as little as needed to get ready for the beginning of the main training program.
However, in gymnastic training and in track and field time is really not wasted, because what is called the “warm up” is actually a warm up + a training segment. Yet, I do feel that we must be precise when we design what is the warm up and what is the main program.
In my experience 15-20 minutes is sufficient for the general warm up, depending on the intensity of the first drills of the main program. The more intense the first drills of the main program, the longer the general warm up and the higher the intensity should be at the end of the general warm up.
Related to this topic is the fact that when athletes perform multiple workouts within a day, most often a shorter (and different) general warm up is needed before the last workout segments compared to the first workout segments.
4. Choose the content also of the general warm up specific to the content of the coming main program.
It may sound like an oxymoron to make the “general” warm up, “specific” to the workout and some may argue that if the exercises in the general warm up are chosen specific to the workout it is not really the general warm up, but the specific warm up that we are talking about.
As crazy as the principle may sound, it developed from practical experience with athletes with more than 10 sessions per week. With 10 sessions per week, they would simply get bored silly from doing the same general warm up twice a day, 5 days a week!
It was not farfetched to introduce the “split warm up”, two or three different general warm up programmes to be used at different times during a given training week.
The content of the general warm up can also be beneficially adjusted from meso cycle to meso cycle to include exercises that might not be in the current program, but will be used later in the macro cycle. In the later phases of a macro cycle, close to competition, the general warm up can emphasize exercises that are no longer in the training program or only in the training program with a low volume.