RAMP up your warm up to boost your results!

Thursday, January 19, 2017. Author Paul Rose

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In commercial gyms everywhere, warming up comprises of little more than devoting ten to fifteen minutes on a treadmill, stair climber, cross-trainer or stationary bike. Although this approach will no doubt serve the purpose of warming you up, it misses an ideal opportunity to make much use of that time at the start of each session to improve fundamental areas of your fitness.

I know ten to fifteen minutes does not sound like a lot of time to utilize well, but when you do this every session, every week, it accumulates to a lot of training time. Wouldn’t it be better to try a warm up routine that not only improves your performance in the subsequent workout but also helps maximize movement efficiency and effectiveness for more long-term benefits?

An effective warm-up should set the tempo for what follows in the workout or practice both physically and mentally!

Why do we need to warm up?

Warm ups have become an essential tool for coaches and trainers to assist in the prevention and reduction of injury, and to enhance the overall performance of their athletes and clients.

From a physiological standpoint, the objectives of an effective warm up should be to:

  • Activate the neural system
  • Stimulate the entire body and major biomechanical functions (raise core and muscle temperature, increase blood flow)
  • Prepare the joints for activity through all ranges of motion. [1] 


All these mechanisms can help influence your performance by:

  • Increasing the speed at which your muscles can contract and relax. [2]
  • Improve your muscle strength and power output [3,4]
  • Improve your rate of force development (RFD) [5]
  • Greater economy of movement as it lowers the viscous resistance in muscles – more resistance to stress and less likely to tear. [4]
  • Improve the muscles oxygen delivery (hemoglobin releases oxygen more readily at higher muscle temperatures) [6]
  • Enhances metabolic reaction allowing the body’s energy system to work more efficiently, resulting in an improved work capacity. [4]

Not to forget that an effective warm up also allows you to mentally prepare yourself for the workout you are about to undertake. To quote Mel Siff, “The term warm-up” should be replaced by a term such as “pre-activity preparation”. [7]

IS THERE A BEST WAY TO WARM-UP?

While there are many different theories and preparation sequences out there, the R.A.M.P approach, based on the structure put forward by Ian Jeffreys, provides an effective framework around which your warm up can be built. [8] Choice of exercise and movement can be altered and tailored to your specific needs, within this framework but the general methodology remains the same.

Raise body temperature & heart rate.

Activate key muscle groups.

Mobilize joints.

Potentiate – prime the body for the maximal intensities it will be required to produce in the session.

Raise

  • Body Temperature
  • Heart rate
  • Blood flow
  • Respiration Rate
  • Joint fluid viscosity

Similar to the common approach to warming up, the Raise phase of the RAMP protocol aims to elevate body temperature, heart rate, blood flow, joint fluid viscosity and respiratory rate. This phase looks to accomplish these aims by using low intensity cardio activities for 5 to 10 minutes, with a gradual build up of speed that has a similar movement pattern in the subsequent workout/training session.

Example - you could use skipping variations or light jogging to start an interval session, or begin on a rowing machine or cross-trainer before a full body gym session.

Activate

This portion of the warm up is to help activate the necessary muscle groups.

Once your core body temperature has increased and your muscles are warm and stimulated, it’s time to move onto the next component of the warm up phase. This phase can be very specific to not just your session but also your individual mobility needs.

Choose activation exercises to stimulate the key muscle groups that will be worked during the workout or training session.

Example - On a lower body workout focussing on glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings you could include exercises such as single leg glute bridges or lunge and squat variations. On an upper body day, you could include push up variations and resistance band pull-aparts.

The goal is to activate and not fatigue the muscles being worked so try to perform no more than 8 repetitions of each exercise, focus on contracting the muscle explosively and maintaining control throughout the movement. The ability to transmit force and coordinate neuromuscular recruitment is vital before going into a rigorous training session.

Mobilize

For those of you who have an area of mobility that you would like to address such as poor shoulder mobility or tight hip flexors, it is during this phase that you would implement corrective specific mobilization drills or pre-habilitation drills.

Example – Use mobility work such as rotator cuff exercises, balance work, resistance band routines and glute-ham exercises.

Static stretching is generally not performed in the RAMP protocol, the focus on specific muscle groups and their activation is not as important as the movement patterns. However, if you feel that the introduction of some static stretches may help your performance in the workout holding a static stretch for under 45 seconds at a time has been shown to have no adverse effects on workout – especially if you follow them with some more dynamic activities before the workout. [9]

Potentiate/ Performance

Now that you are all fired up and ready to go, it’s time to improve the effectiveness of the workout. This phase helps to prime the muscles for exercises, which have similar coordination patterns and neuromuscular activity. The word ‘Potentiate’ is in relation to ‘Post Activation Potentiation’. This is when a high intensity contraction results in an excitation of the motor neurons by the CNS, which positively influences subsequent exercise performance.

In this phase, you should introduce specific explosive movements or drills that reflect the fundamental aspects of the upcoming training session with an increase in intensity.

Example - if you were about to perform an outdoor HIIT sprinting session, this part of the warm up should include some form of speed and agility work like plyometric bounds or sprinting drills. Whereas if you were about to start one of the Genetic Fat Loss or Muscle Building gym days, the inclusion of med ball throws and lighter explosive resistance training such as bodyweight squat jumps, lateral jumps plyometric push ups, or doing a warm up set concentrating on a quick concentric portion of the lift with a lighter load would be appropriate.

Note: The potentiate phase exercises, although explosive, should have a low injury risk. If you are going to be performing jumping activities, make sure you are competent with the movement and can perform it safely. Jumps and countermovement jumps can significantly increase the force experienced on joints during landing. [11]

The increase in intensity, speed of contraction and the focus on technique in the RAMP warm up enables the muscles to withstand larger loads without injury and should help improve your performance in the subsequent workout.

Give it a go!

Try out the RAMP warm up structure that will increase body temperature and heart rate, provide dynamic stretching, stimulate the entire body and major biomechanical functions, provide practice for movement patterns, improve mobility and finally, prepare you for a rigorous workout session. Remember a warm up should be your preparation and secret weapon, not a chore!

References

    1. Hedrick, A. (2012). Resistance Training Program Design (2nd ed.). (J. W. Coburn, & M. H. Malek, Eds.) Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
    2. Hoffman J Physiological Aspects of Sports Performance and Training. Champaign Ill: Human Kinetics 2002
    3. Bergh U and Ekblom B Influence of muscle temperature on maximal strength and power output in human muscle. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 107:332–337 1979.
    4. Enoka, RM. Neuromechanics of Human Movement. Champaign Ill: Human Kinetics 2002.
    5. Asmussen E, Bonde-Peterson F and Jorgenson K. Mechano- elastic properties of human muscles at different temperatures. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. 96:86–93 1976.
    6. Little T, Williams AG. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional soccer players. .J Strength Cond Res. Feb;20(1):203–7 2006.
    7. Siff, M.C. and Verkohoshansky, Y.U. 1999. Supertraining (4th edn). Denver, CO: Supertraining International
    8. Jeffreys, I. (2007). Warm up revisited–the ‘ramp’method of optimising performance preparation. UK Strength and Conditioning
    9. Behm DG, Chaouachi A.: A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2011, 111: 2633–2651.
    10. Sale, D.G. (1992), Neural adaptations to strength training. In Komi P.(1992) pp249–265.
    11. Walsh, M., Arampatzis, A., Schade, F., & Brüggemann, G. P. (2004). The effect of drop jump starting height and contact time on power, work performed, and moment of force. Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association, 18(3), 561-566.

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