Jamie French and Matt Long warm things up a little

As runners we tend to naturally gravitate towards talking about what ‘session’ we have just effected or plan to do be it the traditional long run, tempo work, hill reps or interval training and so on.

This being said the so called ‘fitness’ part of the session is only the proverbial middle of the sandwich and its easy to overlook the slices of bread either side- namely the cool down and warm up.

A key part of our training sessions which should not be overlooked is what we actually do within our warmup protocols.

Within this short piece we hope to explore concepts surrounding efficient warmup practices and how to get the most “bang for our buck” within the first part of our coaching sessions.

Missed opportunities

There is a common misconception and unwitting practice amongst the endurance community that the only way that we can raise our athletes heart rates within a warmup activity is to complete a number of laps jog around a school field, football pitch or athletics track.

This tends to be common practice as the first activity done when athletes arrive at the beginning of their sessions. Undoubtably the action of jogging around the field does achieve the first “Raising” element of a RAMP warm up. Heart rates are raised, which subsequently increases blood flow, increasing core and peripheral temperature, kick starting O2 kinetics and increasing the rate of the different metabolic processes.

It also increases the temperature within the synovial fluid contained within joints within athletes, allowing these joints to move more readily and freely. A jog around the field, pitch or track is therefore not a bad thing…..but could it be more effective?

One of the challenges with this process is that when coaches send athletes on their “raising” activity, they could also be doing other things which contribute to their athletic development, and therefore this could be seen as a missed opportunity.

Using space

If we think about the dynamics of that heart rate raising activity, the position of the coach in relation to the athletes is quite distal. For most of the heart rate raising jog, the athletes would be the far side of the track or pitch, meaning that any observations and subsequent feedback would be very difficult.

It would still be possible to give an instruction to athletes, asking them to run with a straight back, on their jog around the track. However, it would be very difficult to get a view as to whether this was actually being done and if so, to what extent.

It’s also a missed opportunity to start to pull together information about any other injuries or asymmetries, or indeed any other areas of potential future technical development.

The solution is very simple. Rather than ask athletes to go for a jog around the track to raise their heart rates, coaches and athletes can work in a much smaller area smaller, say for example a mini oval track 60 meters round, with the coach being placed in the middle, asking the athletes to complete their jog around the outside.

The total distance covered by our athletes in the jog can be the same as that that would be covered in the laps around the track or pitch, with the athletes completing more laps around the smaller space. Any developments in the cardiovascular system would be replicated, as the body doesn’t understand distance covered or space, only responding to how long and how hard it is being asked to work in terms of duration and intensity of activity.

The athlete would achieve the same increases in heart rate, core and peripheral body temperature and increases in viscosity of the synovial fluid, irrespective of the shape of the space to be jogged around.

Visible and present

With the coach being in the centre, and never more than a few meters away from the athlete, they will be able to do so much more. Along with being able to observe and give feedback on instructed technical points, the coach would also be able to check that the warm up jog is being performed at an appropriate speed by applying the “talk test” to gauge whether athletes are working in the aerobic domain or whether they have strayed into the lactate domain.

They could also watch each of the athletes, to see if previously worked on technical points, such as running with a dorsi flexed foot, have been learnt to a level where the athlete is autonomous, and will perform without thinking about them.

The coach could also start to introduce other activities into the jog, such as asking the athletes to complete each lap three seconds quicker, helping the athlete to develop an intrinsic perception of running at different paces.

Questions for self-reflection:

• What are we trying to achieve by each element of our warm up activities according to the RAMP acronym of Raise; Activate; Mobilise and Potentiate? For more details on RAMP warm ups check out this article by Tom from 2019.

• How can we better organise our spaces to offer more opportunities for learning rather than warming up just as we always have done?

• What other modes of “raising” might we incorporate into our warm ups which don’t just involve light aerobic running?

Jamie French and Matt Long have both served as England Team Staff and won the British Milers’ Club Horwill Award for outstanding coach education in 2013.