A thorough warmup serves many purposes. Because of this, every session begins with a warmup that lasts anywhere from 10-30 minutes. A properly designed warmup should progress from low to high intensity, and from less to more specific. While all programs at UAD are individualized, the warmup for land-based athletes remains largely the same for all. It is constituted of movements and ideas derived from Charlie Francis, Dan Pfaff, Cal Dietz, Loren Landow, Gerard Mach, Buddy Morris and others. The athletes move in all directions and planes, while emphasizing posture & stability through motion and mobility in the appropriate structures. Some exercises also act as a form of practice for the work to follow.
The mechanisms through which a properly designed, thorough warmup improves performance are many.
“A proper dynamic warm-up acts as a mobilizing stimulus for the systems involved in oxygen transport, allowing a high level of aerobic activity to be reached more quickly, reducing initial oxygen deficit, and allowing the aerobic system to provide energy for a longer period of time, as well as increasing muscle temperature and improving blood flow to the muscles, allowing for more oxygen delivery and faster removal of metabolic byproducts.” (Stewart & Sleivert)
A warm muscle results in warm motor neurons. “This heating lowers the electrical resistance in the neural pathways within muscle, thus improving the muscle’s contraction speed” (Francis). This results in greater speed, power, and strength output.
“Dynamic flexibility is a must for joint health especially in aging athletes. Movement about a joint creates changes in pressure in the joint capsule that drives nutrients from the synovial fluid (the fluid a joint is encased in) toward the cartilage of the joint. Since cartilage lacks its own blood supply, the chrondrocytes (the cells that produce cartilage), must depend on diffusion of oxygen and nutrients directly from synovial fluid for survival. Appropriately, joint mobility correlates highly with joint health.” (Morris)
Additionally, if the heart rate is kept in the appropriate range, the warmup may also be used as a form of cardiac output training, contributing to cardiac efficiency and increases in stroke volume. At the moment, I do not have the athletes wearing heart rate monitors, though it is a goal in the future.
Research has repeatedly shown that excessive static stretching decreases performance, and does nothing to decrease injury risk. As such, we do no static stretching in the warmup, save for some athletes whose mobility is very poor and need the extra range of motion to achieve positions during training they otherwise likely would not be able to. Research has shown that following static stretching with dynamic work negates the negative effects of static stretching, so any stretching takes place after the heart rate elevation and before the rest of the warmup.
Of course, simply having access to a list of exercises is meaningless without the ability to appropriately introduce, teach, progress and regress them (if necessary). The hope is that this article and list prompt coaches to think critically about the inclusion of all aspects of their program.