Warm up is the most fundamental part of every training!
When I was lucky to closely work together with John McEnroe, I asked him what kind of training regimen was back in a days when he was on pro tour as one of the best players. He told me “we were just playing tennis, almost without warming up, if you don’t count 3 minutes jogging before match or practice and maybe some stretching.” This is the BIGGEST REASON WHY CAREER OF PROFFESIONAL TENNIS PLAYERS ARE MUCH MORE LONGER TODAY THAN 20-30 YEARS BEFORE. Training equipment, better knowledge about human body, more skilled athletic trainers and physiotherapist, diverse medicine treatments and medicaments are part of the reason as well, but the fact that players are ready to spend almost equal amount of time on warm ups, treatment, prevention type of training is making a huge difference in longevity, durability and performance.
In his famous book “Functional Training Handbook”, Craig Liebenson has a chapter about warm:
“Warm-up before training or competition is important in order to prepare the body for an increased biomechanical load, in the sense of both improving the performance of the athletes and reducing the risk of injuries. Warm-up will increase the blood flow and oxygen transport to working muscles, make muscles less viscous and increase their elastic properties, as well as enhance cellular metabolism. It will also decrease the stiffness of the connective tissue, increase range of motion, and even increase speed of nerve impulses (18–20). Several studies, including a recent randomized trial, indicate that structured warm-up can decrease injury risk (21). Several injury prevention programs have been studied that include a structured warm-up as a part of the program (22–24).” – Functional Training Handbook; Liebenson;. page 7
Proper planned warm up, between other things, must be divided into general and specific warm up. General warm up consist of:
• raising temperature of muscles, tendons and fascia,
• joints movements and ROM,
• activation of all myofascial lines and slings,
• balance and proprioception,
• motor control exercises
On the other hand, with specific type of warm up exercises main objective is to:
• address specific body area because of a higher sport demands there (example of groin musculature during clay season in tennis) or because of individual history of injuries (example prevention of ankle sprains for athlete who had sprain ankle in past)
• type of activity after warm up (strength training or speed training).
Today I want to address general type of warm up with explanations and few examples. There are 3 major components of general warm up:
1) Myofascial Release
2) Controlled Articular Rotations
3) Activation drills
1) Myofascial release
If you don’t know about MFR that you are living under the rock for a long time! I’m aware that studies and researches about self-myofascial tools don’t back up everything what marketing is giving them credit for. As a coach who is spending most of the days in the gym, from practical standpoint, I argue that it makes a lot of sense! If your athletes are not regularly visiting some manual therapist who is taking care between other things about soft tissues, all what this athlete is left with for the purpose of tissue quality and recovery is stretching, nutrition and sleeping. In the world of tennis is normal for kids from 12-13 years old to train between 4-6 hours a day, and in this case soft tissue needs regular control. This is the point where self-myofascial tools can help athletes to address possible adhesions, improve neural flow or just speed up recovery after long session.
Here you can see some specific examples we are using with our tennis players:
a) Foam rolling quad and TFL –
b) Foam rolling upper back –
2) Controlled Articular Rotations
Best definition of CAR’s is coming from person who developed this system of training, Dr. Andreo Spina: “Active, rotational movements at the outer limits of articular motion.” Basically we’re rotating our joints through the biggest range of motion possible with tension and control. But why we want to do this? Because all starts with the joint capsule. The joint capsule is the first line of communication between joint and the brain, and rotation is the best way to interact with the capsule. We want our capsules healthy and communicative, sending info to the brain what our joints can produce, and control. Joints that move well (controllable and bigger ROM) receive better nutrition. Ligamentous soft-tissue structures and joints receive poor blood supply; it’s movement that gets nutrients to these area! And there is another hugely important benefit, CAR’s should be everyday screening process for our athletes. If today my hip joint is moving different than usual, or maybe there is discomphort present during moving in outer limits, we need to address this before athlete is starting to load this joint by speed, power or strength work.
I’m regularly using CAR’s in my daily training routine with professional players too:
1) Jannik Sinner hip CAR’s –
2) Maria Sharapova shoulder CAR’s –
3) Activation drills
The basic idea behind activation is to enhance the communication between neurology and biology – muscles, that’s why it’s also called neuromuscular activation. With these exercises we try to connect all myofascial lines and by doing so we have a better chance preventing injuries and improve performance.
There is another important function component of every warm up, NEUTRALITY. The better we find neutrality within our joints and our body in general, we will have less resistance to execute movement. When one joint is out of the optimal alignment, muscles that are antagonists to the movement being produced are firing so called protective tension, to prevent causing more damage to the joint itself.
Here are main benefits of the activation:
a) address muscular imbalances, joint instability, and mobility issues
b) “speed up” neuron traffic between nervous system and muscles
c) strengthens the connections between muscle groups within myofascial lines and slings
Below you can see a few examples of activation drills, but the eventual list of these exercises has no end:
a) supine hooklyine breathing
b) dns baby modified get up
c) TGU progression exercises
d) standing “arrow” mobilization
e) monster walk
I can’t stress enough how important warming up is in the training process. I see it as an evaluation before each training, and as a stimulus that will adequately prepare the athlete for the main part of the training.
18. Green JP, Grenier SG, McGill SM. Low-back stiffness is altered with warm-up and bench rest: implications for athletes.Med Sci Sports Exerc 2002;34:1076–1081.
19. Rosenbaum D, Hennig EM. The influence of stretching and warm-up exercises on Achilles tendon reflex activity. J Sports Sci 1995;13:481–490.
20. Stewart IB, Sleivert GG. The effect of warm-up intensity on range of motion and anaerobic performance. J OrthopSports Phys Ther 1998;27:154–161.
21. Olsen OE, Myklebust G, Engebretsen L, et al. Exercises to prevent lower limb injuries in youth sports: cluster randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2005;330:449.
22. Ekstrand J, Gillquist J, Liljedahl SO. Prevention of soccer injuries. Supervision by doctor and physiotherapist. Am JSports Med 1983;11:116–120.
23. Junge A, Rosch D, Peterson L, et al. Prevention of soccer injuries: a prospective intervention study in youth amateur players. Am J Sports Med 2002;30:652–659.
24. Soligard T, Myklebust G, Steffen K, et al. Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ2008;337:a2469.