How You Should Be Warming Up

     During the open we all saw the tremendous influx of athletes and coaches providing warm up specific to each open workout. Some of these sources had great information and were based on sound scientific principles. Others, not so much. This article is not going to be for the individuals who made those warm ups, and this article will not tell you how to warm up for an open workout. What this article is going to do is define the purpose of a warm up, elaborate on how and why a proper warm up is essential to performance, and outline the biggest mistake most people make when warming up for competition, or in this case the open.

      Some of the warm ups floating around the interwebs right now are incredible, and I would 100% have some of the athletes I work with do them. Unfortunately, what I have seen from far too many athletes is this phenomenon of changing everything they have done for the entire year on the day of the competition. This holds true for every sport I have played. From football to weightlifting, on game day most athletes do something they have never done before. Sometimes it’s because they saw it on Hard Knocks, sometimes it’s because their favorite athlete does it, or (my personal favorite) because they saw it on instagram. I am certainly guilty of changing things up, and I almost tore my MCL while snatching because on competition day I wanted to wear my new lifters. It was a silly decision, but I was lucky enough to escape from the potential tragedy by changing back into my old shoes just in time.

     Warming up serves several important functions for athletes and recreational exercisers alike. For starters, it improves mental focus and outlook towards training. If warming up did nothing else it would be worth the effort for just this effect. Fortunately, warming up also causes physiological changes that improve performance. For starters it increases cellular metabolism, allowing you to get more energy (ATP) in less time. It also improves the force production of muscular contractions and decreases tendon stiffness, lessening the likelihood of a rupture. Warm ups also increase blood flow to the needed muscles prior to the desired event. All of these things help to increase the ROM of joints throughout the body.

     In order to properly warm up you have to increase blood flow to the muscles that will be used during the competition or training. Increasing blood flow will also increase core temperature. To accomplish this, a general warm up can be done using calisthenics, slow jogging, or most methods of cardiovascular exercise at a slow pace (if you start sweating you’ve accomplished this). Once the blood flow to the muscles has increased, any necessary myofascial release will also be more effective. Any smart athlete would also address problem areas they know they deal with via additional dynamic stretching.

     Once the general warm up, myofascial release, and dynamic stretching are done it is time to prime the energy systems that the athlete will be using. For endurance athletes a moderate 5 - 10 minute bike, jog, or row will begin to activate the cellular pathways that are necessary for success in the sport. This should not be strenuous so as to not use too much of the energy stores. For power athletes plyometric movements like jumps and throws are perfect for increasing cellular function and neurological stimulation of the body.  Priming the systems is that final step to creating a successful warm up. Again, this is the order.

  • General warmup

  • Myofascial release

  • Dynamic stretching

  • Energy system primer

In total this should not take more than 30 minutes.

    The biggest mistake athletes can make when warming up on competition day is completely changing what they do. We try and resist this change, but sometimes watching all those other people do things you've never done can cause insecurities to pop up and lead you to do things you've never done before. Having these excellent warm ups from Outlaw and other places provides awesome ideas on how to warm up for a given open workout. However, if the warmups have banded walks and you've never done them before in a warm up or training, you may create too much fatigue for your glutes to function properly during the workout. The people who wrote the warm ups are smart people, but chances are they have never met you.

     So use these online warmups as a guide, not gospel. Take what you have done all year long and work to incorporate the elements you need for that particular workout. Do not rely on someone who has never seen you train before to dictate how you warm up on the one day that it really matters.