“One part of my job I’ll never learn to love is the pre match warm up. I hate it with every fibre of my being. It actually disgusts me. It’s nothing but masturbation for the conditioning coaches” – Andrea Pirlo, World Cup Winner, Champions League Winner and Serie A Winner.

Does he have a point?

I know some S & C coaches tend to over complicate elements of a workout or session and I am a firm believer of simplifying things for our athletes, but one thing that is universally accepted is the need of a well designed and planned warm up pre training or competition. We are all aware that a warm up increases our muscle temperature, core temperature and blood flow. But it also has an effect on the following:

  • Faster muscle contraction in our agonist and antagonist muscles
  • Improvements in reaction time and force development
  • Improvement in muscle strength and power
  • Improved oxygen delivery
  • Enhanced metabolic reactions

A traditional warm up usually consisted of a light jog and a few static stretched carried out on the major muscle groups. Old school!!!

However one method which I tend to use a lot when working with teams/athletes and in our fitness classes at PhysioElite is the RAMP method. It identifies three key areas:

  1. Raise
  2. Activate and Mobilise
  3. Potentiate

Raise aims to elevates the body temperature, heart rate and respiration rate, blood flow and joint fluid viscosity. Depending on your sport or event, this part of the warm up will vary. A field sport such as hurling or soccer will tend to carry out general movement patterns involving some skill and sport related drills where as a runner will carry out movements specific to his or her event. Running in a 5k race won’t require the athlete to backpedal so is there a need to include some backpedalling drills in the warm up? Not necessarily. It is important to mimic the movements carried out in the warm up to those carried out in the event itself. Some examples for the runner would be to include A March or A Skip drills.

Activate and Mobilise aims to activate key muscle groups and mobilise key joints and ranges of motion. This again should be related to the needs of the athlete and sport. Many recreational athletes spend their day either sitting in a car for a long period of time or sitting at a desk for prolonged periods of the day also. This leads to our muscle fibres “falling asleep”. The body is lazy in that any muscle that is not required to work, it will shut them down and go asleep. Activation wakes up these muscles that were asleep during the day and in order to perform at a high level we need to “fire” these muscles. Exercise such as the bridge, banded clams, band walks, squats, plank and variations are great to fire up the body and prepare it for training or competition.

We now mobilise. To do this we stretch, but which works best: static or dynamic? Some research shows that static stretching can have a negative effect on endurance and power output in athletes where as dynamic does not. I am a big fan of dynamic stretching. Other than already stated, dynamic stretching adds to maintaining the elevation level from the previous part of the warm up. Secondly you can employ dynamic stretches that are similar to the movements included in the sport or event and thirdly it is more time efficient. It is important that you identify the key movement patterns involved in your sport and implement them into your mobilisation phase. For example a footballer may carry out some hamstring kicks to mimic the action of kicking a ball while stretching the hamstrings and a runner may carry out knee to chest walk to mimic that movement of running itself while also stretching the glutes.

Potentiation refers to activities that improve effectiveness and subsequent performance. It involves a change in intensity that will gradually increase to competition level. The aim is to increase the intensity of the warm up to a point where the athlete is able to perform in their competition at max level. So for example a sprinter will need to incorporate some sprinting drills and sprints of increasing intensity to prepare the body for what is to follow.

The RAMP approach provides a framework around which to construct an effective warm up. It is important to carry out the movements that mirror those to what we actually do in our sport or training session. If you jump in your sport, you need to jump in your warm up. If you turn in your sport, you need to turn in your warm up and if you sprint in your sport you need to sprint in your warm up. All this ensures optimal preparation for performance.

So as much as I loved watching Pirlo spraying passes around the field so effortlessly with his glorious looking hair, when it comes to the science and reasoning for the implementation of warm ups, he hasn’t a clue!!

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