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Physiological Requirements to Warm Up


Sergei Beliaev, Ph.D.
Natalia Verchoshansky, Ph.D.

Every book devoted to physical training and general exercise in almost every sport has a mentioning of the necessity of inclusion of warm up prior to execution of significant physical effort. Specific suggestions may vary from sport to sport as well as suggested composition of specific types of training sets optimum for that component.

The practical daily workout protocols provided to subscribers of the Super Sport Systems services are no different. We are including warm up component into every daily workout and sometimes suggest different warm up scenarios to make it more entertaining and meaningful trying to combine the physiological requirements to warm up with some technical tasks. However, in spite of provided suggestions we receive constant requests about the “best” warm up protocols and their duration in application to different situations.

Dr. Natalia Verchoshasky, the daughter of renown Russian specialist in sports training methodology science and a serious researcher herself, wrote an article devoted to physiological requirements to warm up. Considering the fact that the 3S focus is primarily on endurance sports, I took some freedom to re-phrase this article in application to the issues imposed by peak performance in endurance sports. Having this said, it should be absolutely clear that the underpinning physiological and neuro muscular principles of warm up are remaining practically the same regardless of sport you are applying it to.

General goals of warm up:

It is a well known fact that the process of preparation of different physiological systems and neuro-muscular reactions to strenuous physical exercise requires some time. Therefore, in sport the main goal of the warm up is usually associated with the need to increase athletes’ work ability to its maximum ability from the start of competition or training.

In theory this task can be achieved though acceleration of global and local energy-supply mechanisms and neuro-muscular coordination processes. In real life in order to achieve the desired effect we need to define the following components of the warm up:

1. Optimum duration of warm up period
2. Optimum intensity of training exercises
3. Optimum structure or composition of exercises used for warm up.

In general, the expected resulting effect of warm can be described by increased activity of the following functions and reactions:

– Increase sensitivity of neuro centers responsible for support of:
o breathing mechanism
o oxygen transport systems
o thermo regulation
o cardio-respiratory regulation
o motion control centers

Increased hormone production in response to stress caused by physical activity should also mobilize glycogen storage access and stimulate fast response time of heart, lungs and blood properties. All these effects combined as well as increased temperature of blood should lead to better oxygen supply of tissues and working muscles.

Once this stage is achieved, there is also a need to “test” specifically for the given exercise since the new condition of the system requires re-configuration of nuero-muscular responses. That is one of the reasons why general or “warming up” component should precede any technical work. This realization led to the suggestion that the warm up should consist of two components: general and specialized and solve three consecutive tasks:
– warm up the body
– prepare nuero-muscular apparatus
– test specific locomotion at their peak level

Specific goals of warm up

Once we understand the general warm up goals, we may proceed to search for answers related to specifics of warm up process. If you remember, in real life we need to find practical answers to three main questions:
– How long?
– At what level of effort / speed?
– In what sequence of specific sets / exercises?

To answer these questions we may need to look at studies related to time and effect of different warmup protocols. Having this said, please note that different sports may require different approaches. We also know that different athletes’ type respond differently to warm up as they may have different needs.

However, in the majority of endurance sports where the duration of effort is longer then 2-4 minutes, the rules of warm will be quite close from sport to sport. In fact, our study of warm up effects on rowers and swimmers suggest that the expected reaction to “standard” warm up is actually identical.

Numerous studies related to immediate reaction of the body to physical exercise suggest that athletes are reaching maximum power output and optimum nuero-muscular coordination at temperatures of the body between close to 39 and 39.5 C (102.2-103.1 F). It is important to note that reaching this level of body temperature is only important when we need to perform in short, high intensity exercises (I believe that all swimming and rowing events fully qualify for this rule). The studies of effect of higher body temperature on the central nervous system suggest that the speed of electrical impulses is also higher at higher temperatures.

Important condition to that effect – is that the increase of temperature should be achieved through internal activity. The passive methods (such as massage or ointments) are not producing the same results.

The time necessary for achievement of working body temperatures varies in data provided by different researchers and is found between 10 and 30 minutes. The important point here – is the shortest period of time necessary to achieve the desired parameter. Based on that information, warm up shorter then 10 minutes can hardly be effective.

The last component of our discussion – is selection of warm up training sets. By this time we know that one of our goals is to increase body temperature by executing some general work. We identified the minimum time necessary to achieve desired effect. We then have to include specific component which will coordinate the functional or physiological systems with neuro-muscular systems.

So if we put all these requirements together, we can arrive at a “perfect” pre-race warm up (pre –training protocol may be slightly different depending on daily sets selection).

We usually suggest the following “3S Standard” warm up:

1. Start with low intensity swim (Zone Ib) for at least 6-7 minutes (500-600 yards in swimming or ~ 2500 meters in rowing). How you arrive at that distance – really does not matter as long you do not interrupt the work with long rest periods.
2. Increase intensity to Zone Ia level and stay there another 4-5 minutes (300-400 yards in swimming, ~ 1500 meters in rowing, Zone Ia)
3. Short recovery if necessary, then execute 2-3 “slow” intervals of 100 yards at pace equal to Zone II effort (2 x 500 meters in rowing). By this time your heart rate should go up and stabilize.
4. Recover, then execute 3-4 25 yards efforts at race pace (or slightly slower (depending on your main distance event). For rowers the duration of effort will be equivalent to 250 meters.
5. Slow down now. You may continue with another 200-300 yards in Ia zone – depending how close is your start time. You are now READY!

As you can see, you total warm up distance is around 1500 and 2000 yards (or 5000-6000 meters in rowing). It is suggested that sprinters may respond better with a bit longer warm up, while distance swimmers will have time to “catch up” during the race…

We wish you fast starts and record finish times this season!

On behalf of 3S experts:

Sergei Beliaev
Natalia Verchoshansky

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