A good warm-up should prepare the body for the movements and the intensity required in the sport. A warm-up does not need to be time consuming or complicated, but it is an opportunity to address any movement deficits an athlete may have.
Activate and Potentiate
We must take into account that running requires good interaction between the body and the ground. The body applies force to the ground, absorbs it and generates force to propel itself off the ground again. When the foot is in contact with the ground the limb needs to stiffen to load up and store elastic energy and then release it at the right time and in the right direction.
A compliant limb where the joints continue to bend and muscles stretch, as load is being absorbed can waste energy and can lead to lower limb injury. Try riding a bike with flat tyres – a lot of effort goes into the pedals with so little in return and a risk of further structural damage!
A desirable warm-up should follow the RAMP principles – Raise, Activate & Mobilise and Potentiate, but not necessarily in that order if you are an endurance athlete.
|The athlete should begin with some mobility exercises targeting the hips, thoracic spine and ankles with dynamic movements to achieve an optimal range of movement. Key muscle groups should then be activated.|
The muscles around the hips have big jobs to do and need to be prepared for that. These include the gluteal muscles and hip flexors, and for some athletes with internal hip rotation tendencies – the external hip rotators. Some ankle activation work is also useful particularly the ankle plantar flexors.
When running it is desirable to have hip extensors and ankle plantar flexors pre-activated before initial contact with the ground to achieve optimal ankle and knee ‘stiffness’ during mid stance phase. This can be achieved by actively striking the ground with a vertical shin as opposed to just passively striking the ground.
Some athletes may choose to begin with some Raise activity such as a jog, but it can be more beneficial, to begin with Mobility and Activation exercises first before you run. It may be more effective to train good muscle recruitment and movement patterns first and then look to ‘activate’ the aerobic or anaerobic energy systems a little closer to the activity depending on race distance and individual needs. A Marathon runner may not need an intense warm-up, but a middle-distance runner would benefit from priming their anaerobic energy system before a race with some sustained run efforts at race pace.
Potentiation movement drills activate the neural patterns required for running. These are usually fast movement patterns that include low-level plyometric exercises, sprinting and short foot contacts with the ground. Some hopping, skipping and ground reaction exercises and drills are ideal, followed by some short sprints at close to maximum speed. Just one or two sets of low volume duration are required to help prime the system for the task in hand
To stretch or not to stretch?
A common question we are often asked in the clinic is whether static stretching should be included in the warm-up. We tend to avoid static stretching immediately prior to the activity.
Dynamic mobility exercises are much more beneficial in the warm-up as an athlete only needs enough mobility to fulfil the movement requirements of their sporting activity. Such exercises allow for more elastic movements involving a stretch-reflex response that is required for running.
A warm-up should follow some logic and be relevant to the movements required for your sport.