Exploring the benefits of warm-up strategies

Introduction

It is well established that effective warm up strategies prepare the athlete both mentally and physically for exercise or competition (Haffman, 2002., McArdle et al, 2007., Crow et al, 2012., Kraemer and Knobloch, 2009). However, poor warm up compliance amongst athletes and general populations is also well documented within literature and amongst coaches alike (Engebretsen et al, 2008). This suggests that any individuals that fail to warm up effectively will not reap the many documented benefits of warming up prior to training or competition. This blog explores the documented benefits of effective warm up strategies and will hopefully persuade individuals to start implementing such warm up strategies within their own training programs.

Greater aerobic efficiency

As the name implies, the acute elevation of the core temperature in athletes is one of the key aims of a ‘warm up’. Indeed, the R component within the well-established RAMP warm up protocol regularly applied by strength and conditioning coaches stands for ‘Raise core temperature’. Previous findings suggest that such an increase core temperature and blood flow results in greater oxygen delivery to working muscles due to the Bohr effect (McArdle et al, 2007). This leads to the facilitation of oxygen release from haemoglobin within the blood and myoglobin within the muscle, thereby improving the bodies capabilities to meet the aerobic demands of oxidative dominant – endurance based sports or recovery rates between intense bouts of high intensity activity. Therefore, the completion of an effective warm up prior to training or competition, may potentiate endurance/recovery performance in athletes.

Greater RFD

Additional potentiating performance benefits, such as faster muscle contraction and relaxation of against and antagonist muscles, have also been documented in literature (Hoffman, 2002). Such effects may result in greater rate of force development (RFD), a key desired quality in athletes that has demonstrated to have significant correlations with both sprinting and jumping performance (Cronin and Sleivert, 2005). Again, such RFD performance effects demonstrate the need to implement effective warm up strategies in training and competition.

Muscle activation

Findings from Crow and colleagues (2012) are in agreement with the performance potentiating effects highlighted, with greater power output (maximal unloaded squat jumps) scores demonstrated in athletes who had completed pre-activity gluteal activation exercises compared to those who had not. These findings suggest that any athletes who compete in sports that require optimal jumping capabilities would benefit greatly from applying effective warm-up strategies involving glute activation exercises.

Priming the neuromuscular system

The opportunity to integrate neuromuscular training in athletes has also been suggested as being another potential benefit of effective warm-up strategies (Kraemer and Knoblch, 2009). This is where the neuromuscular capabilities of fundamental athletic movements (variations of lifting, squatting, pushing/pulling, lunging, etc.) are prepared and ‘activated’ prior to competition via exercises that require balance, limb control and stability (Gamble, 2013). Therefore, it could be argued that the implementation of neuromuscular training modes within warm ups may enhance performance in athletes, by ‘preparing’ the neuromuscular system for activity.

Injury prevention

The prevention of injury is another common suggested benefit of warm up interventions, and while the magnitude of this influence is unclear, positive effects have been demonstrated previously in literature (Brooks et al, 2006). Previous findings suggest an increase in hamstring injury rates within competitive premiership rugby athletes entering a game as substitutes compared with starting players (Brooks et al, 2006). These findings suggest that athletes who proceed into competition having completed an insufficient warm up may be at greater risk of hamstring injury. Therefore, effective warm up strategies may prevent such injuries in athletes, in addition to the previously highlighted performance enhancing benefits.

Conclusion

As has been highlighted, the completion of an effective warm up prior to competition has a variety of positive effects on performance including greater aerobic efficiency, enhanced RFD, greater muscle activation, preparation of the neuromuscular system and reducing injury rates. Therefore, it is evident that effective warm up strategies not only enhance performance in a variety of ways, but also potentially reduce the occurrence of injuries in athletes, suggesting any athlete that chooses to skip warm ups in training or in competition, does so at their own risk!

Written by Thomas Stringwell