What is the point of a warm up?
The first goal of the warm up is, as alluded to by the name, to raise the body's core temperature. This takes approximately 8 to 10 minutes of continuous activity to accomplish.
Once the body is warm, the next goal of the warm up is to tune in motor qualities, improve coordination, and maximize force outputs so that the work you perform is as high quality as possible. Typically you will be least coordinated right when you wake up, becoming more coordinated as you become more alert and move around. A proper warm up helps you ensure your coordination is optimized for the given session.
Lastly, a warm up gives you time to have a state of readiness check, making sure your body is healthy and capable for the session at hand. Athletes who are fatigued in their warm up might need to have their workloads adjusted, as would someone who is guarding their movement due to pain during the warm up.
Tips For A Better Warm Up
To improve your warm up for your sprint training, competitions, or whatever else, consider the following tips.
Tip #1 - Use resistance (bands, ankle weights)
A simple way to get more out of your warm up is to utilize resistance while doing certain movements, such as adding ankle weights or bands to movements you would typically perform with just your body weight. Adding resistance to these general warmup movements will help you warm up faster by making the exercises slightly harder, and this can add a nice general strength stimulus to your workout. As your body gets used to using some light resistance in the warm up, the muscles you are warming up will also have a chance to get stronger, more mobile, and hopefully more resilient against injury.
When doing exercises such as clam shells, various forms of hip extension, abduction & adduction, or hip flexion, ankle weights can be used to add static resistance throughout the range of motion. These exercises should be performed in a way that minimizes momentum, so they should be performed somewhat slowly.
When moving on to drills that are performed at higher velocities than the general mobility and general strength exercises, bands can be used in the form of mini bands or K Bands. Adding bands to something like an A Skip or A Run can help tune the athlete into the feeling of being elastic and letting their leg motions happen reactively, as the bands will force limbs to reverse. This can help tune your motor control for more elastic and reactive movements.
Tip #2 - Utilize Banded Joint Distractions
Sometimes we go to practice and our ankle or hip is feeling funky. You might feel that you cannot fully dorsiflex because you feel a blockage in the joint, or your femur might feel like it is jammed into the acetabulum of the hip.
By utilizing banded joint distractions, you can manipulate joints to improve joint movement and possibly improve the fluid dynamics of the joint. Because we do some much pounding of our joints when we sprint, lift, and jump, band distractions can help offset some of this and help keep the body healthy.
Similarly, you can use floss bands to help mobilize joints and reduce pain. I would suggest checking out the YouTube channel called “The Ready State” by Kelly Starrett if you’d like to learn more about joint distractions and tissue flossing.
Tip #3 - Progress Intensities & Velocities
One trap that some people fall into is being too biased toward one end of the intensity and velocity spectrums, either performing the warmup with everything being slow, or hopping into it with herky jerky fast movements.
A proper warm up should progress from lower intensities and lower velocity movements to higher intensities and velocities as the body warms up. Once the core temperature is raised and you feel your body is somewhat activated, push yourself to increase the intensity of the exercises you do and progress toward higher velocity movements.
For example, you can go from walking pace drills and ground based mobility to drills performed at a jogging pace or faster. After doing some drills, progress toward submaximal intensity acceleration runs. With each acceleration run, you can increase the intensity and distance, up until you feel you are ready for the workout of the day.
Warming up before a tempo run can be shorter and lower intensity than if you were warming up for maximal effort 90 meter sprints for flying 30 meter sprints. Make sure you match the warm up to the demands of the workout.
Tip #4 - Balance Volumes of Drills and Warm Up Runs
Whether it be because of the psychology of the athlete or the physiology of the athlete, some people have a tendency to do far too many drills in their warm up. Drills should have a purpose, and drills with no purpose should be left by the wayside.
The most specific warm up for sprinting would be to sprint, albeit at different intensities based on your state of readiness. If you watch Usain Bolt warm up, a large percentage of his warm up is focused on progressively intensive accelerations, starting with only a couple steps and progressing to longer sprints.
Do your best to get your body ready with a minimum effective dose of general exercises and drills, jumping into accelerations as soon as it is safe. These accelerations give you more opportunities to hone your technique, practice good movement habits, and prepare the body for the task at hand.
Tip #5 - Emphasize Technique
Another mistake I see people make is that they perform their warm up drills and warm up runs with lazy and half hearted technique.
Every rep, from warm up to the end of the workout, is an opportunity to hone your technique and practice good movement habits. If you perform 50 warm up reps of drills and sprints with bad technique, and expect the 6 max effort runs in the workout to overcome those bad reps, you may be mistaken.
Take advantage of each rep as a learning opportunity, staying disciplined to move in a way that fits within the fundamentals of good technique. Practice good posture, properly oriented ground contacts, smooth leg recovery and cycling, and full range of motion arm movements.
Tip #6 - Keep Track Of Your Warm Up
Last but not least, it is important that you keep track of your warm ups so that you can mimic them in competition. Sometimes the excitement of competition can cause us to do strange things, one of which might be to drastically change our warm up.
If every time you warm up you complete 5 warm up runs, and then it takes you 2 max effort sprints to reach your fastest times, you can use this on competition day to be confident that you’re prepared for your race.
Being consistent minimizes the variables which impact your performance. Just as repeating the same workout over and over tends to lead to more predictable improvements compared to if you did different workouts all the time, constantly changing your warm up can have negative effects on the predictability of your performance.