Most people know or their instinct tells them just how important is warming up to prepare the body before exercise. Despite that, there are still people practicing different sports (in the full range, from professional athletes – coaches to enthusiasts of active recreation) who either neglect to warm up or their methods reduce the efficiency of movement during the main part of a workout.
Maybe the analogy between a human body and a car engine is a cliché, however it hits the nail on the head. Race car drivers never race with a cold engine. In order to take full advantage of a race car, the driver needs to take it for a few laps first. Only then can the driver race at top speeds, not risking engine seizure.
Already in the 1950s, it was proved that muscles contract faster and more forcefully when their temperature remains at a physiologically safe level. Warmed-up muscles can also cope with higher loads without the risk of injury. Interestingly enough, scientists established that warm shower increases muscles’ ability to contract and their endurance against some forms of continuous effort by 7,5-9%. Conversely, cooling down significantly decreases muscle efficiency. For instance, muscles cooled down to 18°C can work for a period of time almost three times shorter compared to the standard muscle temperature during rest.
Not Only Muscles
One of the most important aspects of warming up is the preparation of the nervous system for the upcoming work. The human brain recognizes motor patterns and prepares the organism for increased effort accordingly. A few minutes spent on a treadmill or a stationary bike will probably be a poor warm-up before heavy-load squats.
Therefore, every warm-up as well as whole training should be based upon the principle of specificity. Exercises performed to prepare muscles for effort should be similar in character to those planned for the main part of training .For example, plyometric jump training should be mainly preceded by dynamic movements with light loads such as lunges, skips, squats and dynamic stretching exercises such as front, back and side leg swings.
Correct Posture = Correct Movement
An athlete is able to make a correct movement only when it is initiated in a strong and optimal position. Wrong initial position will take a toll on the quality of movement and, what is more, the posture cannot be later corrected e.g. during a loaded movement or when your body leaves the ground in a jump
In many cases, apart from the correct movement pattern, joint mobility and muscle elasticity are indispensable. An athlete won’t be able to perform a correct squat if stiff hips make it impossible for him or her to retain strong low position, just as stiff shoulders can upset swimmer’s otherwise correct technique and unnecessarily use up more energy.
A warm-up should therefore include those exercises which increase joint mobility and help to improve body position in the main part of training. Fighting your own muscles and joints, which are not prepared for effort, is a waste of potential and energy.
Dynamic Versus Static Stretching
Stretching and its influence on an athlete’s efficiency during training have been widely studied over the past few years. The world of sport has been frequently shaken to the core by researches, according to which static stretching of muscle groups used during effort can lower their power-generating ability [3; 4].
In practice, static stretching is not that harmful (what was proved by the scientists from Hokkaido University ). It was also established however that it doesn’t bring any visible results. On the other hand, the same research suggested that dynamic stretching can improve muscle performance. Consequently, the latter is the preferred form of stretching exercises prior to training.
Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching that propels the muscle into its full range of motion. The most well-known examples of exercises of this type are controlled leg and arm swings as well as torso twists. The fluency of motion is essential – the swings should be steady and not in jerks. The arm or leg used should be limp, however the muscles should not be forced beyond its range of motion as it is dangerous and may lead to injury.
Dynamic stretching mustn’t be confused with so called ballistic stretching which probably each of us experienced at school. It consists in forcing the limb beyond its normal range of motion by performing “bouncing” movements into the desired position. This form of stretching, due to its high risk of injury, is best given a wide berth.
Strengthening Your Weak Points
It may be a good idea to include in your warm-up some prehabilitation exercises. Despite the severe name, the exercises are simple. They focus on strengthening the muscles responsible for joint stability such as the muscles of rotator cuff or the short muscles close to scapula which ensure its proper position. These exercises often employ latex bands – the same which are used in rehabilitation.
Unfortunately, prehabilitation is extremely boring and, despite its high effectiveness in minimizing the risk of injury, it is frequently disregarded and forgotten (until the next injury). Including prehabilitation in a warm-up in small but regular doses (even during every workout) seems to be a good solution – it is not enough to make one weary, and it helps to overcome weak points of the organism.
Examples of some of the most practical prehabilitation exercises are given at the end of this article.
A warm-up is probably the most frequently overlooked part of a workout. It’s difficult to convince people of its effectiveness even though it’s supported by a great amount of research. Improved performance, injury prevention and faster regeneration are only a few advantages of a wisely conducted warm-up, and yet they fail to win people over (perhaps they’re not attractive enough?).
Suggested warm-up plans
Plyometric jump training
/almost whole the warm-up plan was taken from “Vertical Jump Bible”
by K. Bagett/
1. Standing good morning (bowing forward) – 15 reps
2. Front lunge – 10 reps
3. Side lunge – 10 reps
4. Side, front and back leg swings – 10 reps each
5. Walking under hurdles – 10 reps
6. skip A – 20 reps
7. skip C – 20 reps
8. Hips and ankle joint mobilization [C]
9. Forward and backward arm circles – 20 reps each
Training for swimming
1. Forward arm circles – 40 reps
2. Backward arm circles - 40 reps
3. Arm swings: up, down and to the sides – 10 reps each
4. Shoulder pass (this can be done with a stick or non-stretchable rope) - 10 front-back reps; you can find a good shoulder pass tutorial under the following link: http://gymnasticswod.com/content/shoulder-pass-progression
5. Front plank on elbows – 1 min (if it’s too tiring, you can split the exercise into two 30 sec series)
6. Back plank on stretched arms – 1 min
7. The hollow body position – 1 min (http://gymnasticswod.com/content/hollow-body-progression-pt1)br> 8. The superman position – 1 min (http://gymnasticswod.com/content/superman)
9. Prehabilitation (e.g. shoulder girdle stabilization [A] or scapula mobilization [B])
10. Leg swings: front, back and to the sides – 10 reps each
11. Hips and ankle joint mobilization [C]
Time – about 15 min
Leg training for maximum strength (with emphasis on increasing the jumping power)
/part of this warm-up as well comes from “Vertical Jump Bible”/
1. Hips and ankle joint mobilization [C]
2. Leg swings: up, down and to the sides – 10 reps each
Planned training: squat 4 x 6 reps 6RM = 100 kg
3. 50% x 6RM = 50 kg x 6 reps
4. 70% x 6RM = 70 kg x 4 reps
5. 90% x 6RM = 90 kg x 2 reps
Planned training: squat 3 x 8 reps 10RM = 90 kg
3. 50% x 10RM = 45 kg x 6 reps
4. 80% x 10RM = 70 kg x 4 reps
*RM (rep max) stands for the maximum number of repetitions a person can do with a given load e.g. 10RM 80kg means that a person is able to do no more than 10 repetitions with a load of 80kg.
Examples of some of the more effective exercises which prevent injury can be found under the links below. If you do them on regular basis during your warm-ups or at the end of trainings, you may improve the condition of your joints. The suggestions below are only a few out of a whole list of exercises with which every coach should be familiar.
[A] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YHIV4a81Os – shoulder girdle stabilization
[B} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4Wo095zPnc – scapula mobilization and strengthening
[C] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPwG2hqnOx0 – hips and ankle joint mobilization
[D] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2w1PeSR8G4 – wrist mobilization and strengthening;
1. M. C. Siff, Y. V. Verkhoshansky, Supertraining, Supertraining International Fourth Edition, Denver 1999.
2. K. Bagett, Vertical Jump Development Bible, Higher-Faster-Sports.com, 2005.
3. D.G. Behm, , D.C. Button, J.C. Butt, Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Can. J. Appl. Physiol. 26:261-272. 2001
4. A.Cornwell, , A.G. Nelson, B. Sidaway, Acute effects of stretching on the neuromechanical properties of the triceps surae muscle complex. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 86:428-434. 2002.
5. Yamaguchi, Taichi; Ishii, Kojiro, Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(3): s. 677-683, 2006.
Our knowledge of sports training is still scarce. Often too scarce for coaches to successfully foresee the results of their training and help athletes in winning championship titles.
If I were to choose one universal skill which directly influences swimming technique, I would, without any hesitation, point to the ability of maintaining proper body position in water.
Copyright © 2013 Paul Piper’s