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Perfect Warm Up Protocol

The importance of warmup

Books devoted to physical training and general exercise in practically any sport all note how important it is to warm up before engaging in any significant physical activity. Although specific suggestions may vary from sport to sport, and the composition of specific types of training sets may vary as well, the importance of a proper warm up cannot be overestimated.

Since Super Sport Systems provides daily workout protocols to its subscribers, we incorporate a warm up component into every daily workout. Sometimes we may even suggest different warm up scenarios to make it more entertaining and meaningful by combining the physiological requirements of warming up with some technical tasks.  However, despite our suggestions, we frequently receive requests about the “best way” to warm up, and for how long.

Dr. Natalia Verchoshasky, a well-respected sports scientist (and incidentally the daughter of Yuri Verchoshansky, renowned Russian specialist in sports training methodology), wrote an article devoted to the physiological requirements to warm up.  Considering the fact that the focus of 3S 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.  But it should be absolutely clear that the underpinning physiological and neuromuscular principles of warm up remain practically the same regardless of the sport to which you are applying it.

General Goals of Warmup

It is a well-known fact that the process of preparing different physiological systems and neuromuscular reactions to strenuous physical exercise requires some time.  Therefore, in sports the main goal of the warm up is usually associated with a need to increase an athlete’s ability to work at maximum level from the start of competition or training.

In theory this task can be achieved though acceleration of global and local energy-supply mechanisms and neuromuscular coordination processes.  In real life in order to achieve this desired effect, we need to understand the following components of a proper 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

Generally, a proper warm up will lead to increased activity of the following functions and reactions:

1.   Increased sensitivity of neuro centers responsible for support of:

  • breathing mechanism
  • oxygen transport systems
  • thermo regulation
  • cardio-respiratory regulation
  • motion control centers

2.  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 with an increase in blood temperature, should also result in better oxygenation of tissues and working muscles.

Once this stage is achieved, there is also a need to “test” the specific protocol  for a given activity, since a new condition of the system requires reconfiguration of the neuromuscular responses.   That is one of the reasons why the “warm up” component should precede any technical work.  Moreover, the warm up period should consist of two components: general and specialized.

It should also solve three consecutive tasks:

  • warm up the body
  • prepare neuromuscular apparatus
  • test specific locomotion at their peak level

Specific Goals of Warmup

Once we understand the general goals of warming up, we can search for answers related to the specifics of the warm up process.  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 the effect of different warm up protocols.  Please note that different sports may require different approaches.  We also know that different types of athletes respond differently to warm up, since 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 up will be very similar from sport to sport.  In fact, our study of the warm up effect on rowers and swimmers using our “standard” warm up is actually identical.

Numerous studies related to the immediate reaction of the body to physical exercise suggests that athletes reach maximum power output and optimum neuromuscular coordination at body temperatures between 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. (We believe that all swimming and rowing events follow this rule).  The studies of the effect of higher body temperature on the central nervous system suggests that the transmission speed of electrical impulses is also higher at higher temperatures.

It is important to understand that the increase of body temperature needs to be achieved through internal activity.  Passive methods (e.g. massage or ointments) do not produce the same results.

The time necessary to achieve these suggested body temperatures varies in different sources, and is found to be between 10 and 30 minutes.  What’s important here is finding the shortest time period needed to achieve the desired parameter.  Based on that information, a warm up less than 10 minutes can hardly be effective.

The last thing we need to consider is the selection of training sets for warm up.  We’ve already discussed that one of our goals is to increase body temperature by executing some general work, and we have identified the minimum amount of time necessary to achieve the desired result.   Now we have to include the specific component that will coordinate the functional or physiological systems with neuromuscular systems.

“Perfect” Warmup Protocol

By putting all these requirements together we can design a “perfect” pre-race warm up (actually the pre –training protocol may be slightly different depending on which daily sets are selected).

We usually suggest the following as a “Standard 3S Warm Up”…

  1. Start with an easy swim (Zone Ib) for at least 6-7 minutes (500-600 yards).  How you break up that distance really doesn’t 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, Zone Ia)
  3. Take a short recovery if necessary, then execute 2-3 “slow” intervals of 100 yards at a pace equal to Zone II effort.  By this time your heart rate should go up and stabilize.
  4. Recover, then execute 3-4 25 yard sprints (~  8-10 seconds of near-maximum effort) at race pace (or slightly slower (depending on your main distance event) The shorter the event, the slower is the relative race pace.
  5. Slow down.  You may continue with another 200-300 yards in zone Ia, depending on how close it is to your start time. You are READY now!

As you can see, you total warm up distance is around 1500-2000 yards or 20-25 minutes.  It is suggested that sprinters may respond better with a little longer warm up, while distance swimmers will have time to “catch up” during the race…

Natalia Verchoshansky, Ph.D., Rome, Italy
Sergei Beliaev, Ph.D., Richmond, USA

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