Hockey Dryland Not the Only or Best Option

January 11, 2011

Over the past few years a disturbing trend has started to develop, young, developing hockey players using dryland as their only means of physical conditioning. I am not anti dryland, it does have a place and if done properly can be a valuable tool for building some aspects of hockey fitness but it can’t be the only tool. A well designed balanced program that includes strength training, aerobic training, hockey specific conditioning and dryland is the key to long term development.  Dryland alone has some severe limitations that will prevent a young player form reaching their full potential.

Not Hockey Specific

Dryland is not hockey specific. If you watch a hockey dryland session and a football dryland and a baseball dryland they all look the same. In fact dryland was designed for and transfers over to field based sport performances much better than it does on ice performances. There have been studies that show improvements in on field performance tests in football and soccer following drland agility training because the exercises used are similar to movements used on the field. All the data available on hockey actually shows no improvement in on ice agility following dryland agility training because skating and running are too different.

Hockey is a speed and power sport but the structure of most dryland sessions may be making athletes slower. Most dryland sessions are set up so that the athletes are exhausted at the end, they are constantly moving for the whole session with very little rest. In many cases the parents are at fault for this because they don’t want to see the kids standing around. Humans have an innate pacing ability, when they know that they have to do something hard for a long period of time they naturally pace themselves. If an athlete knows they have to do 25 sprints they won’t go as fast as if they only have to do five. Developing speed requires maximum speed on each sprint . A couple of years ago an NHL team approached us to analyze their practices. The media had been going on about how the team was slow and needed to develop some speed. We knew from seeing the on ice sprint testing that the strength coach had done in camp that the team actually had some of the faster players in the league and on average was a much faster team than several others that the media said were faster.  We shot video of the practice and analyzed it using biomechanics software to get skating speed during the different drills and then compared the practice speeds to the training camp testing speeds. At no point in the practice did the players skate at more than 80% of the peak speed. They paced themselves through the whole practice because the coach liked to run up tempo practices that tired the guys out. They learned to play slow because this is how they practiced, and they could not improve on ice speed because they never skated fast enough in practice. After adjusting the practices the team went on a winning streak and the media stated commenting on how much faster they were playing. Continuous motion dryland is only going to teach a player to pace themselves not build speed.

Individualization

Elite athletes us individualized programs to address their weakness and build on their strengths to make them complete athletes. All the top NHL players hire strength coaches for personal training over the summer months. Every NHL team has a full time strength coach who is expected to individualize the programs for each player during the season. They make this investment because every athlete responds a little differently to training and has different needs depending on their age, fitness, position and role on the team. It is no different for a developing athlete, in fact it may be even more important for a developing athlete to get the individual attention.

 

Any good program starts with a detailed assessment of all aspects of hockey fitness and then uses that information to build the program that is specific to each athlete. Group fitness, yes dryland is group fitness, treats everyone the same way, they do the same workouts regardless of their fitness or individual needs.

Long Term Development

Development is a favourite word of hockey coaches and parents but few actually pay any attention to the principals of long term athlete development. Several years ago Sport Canada started investing money in the creation of a long term athlete development model. They brought in top experts on sport and child development from around the world. The results of this can be seen at www.ltad.ca. One of the key results of this work is that we now know that as kids grow and develop there are period s of time when different fitness qualities develop most effectively. For instance between the ages of 7-9 is period where kids are most adaptable to speed training, particularly hand and foot speed. Missing this period can affect speed later in life. Just going into the growth spurt is a period where aerobic fitness is most trainable and in the 12-18 months immediately following the growth spurt is a period where strength and muscle mass is most trainable. Dryland training alone does not and cannot address these key developmental points. Group programs don’t account for the individual maturation and development rates of each athlete in the way that an individualized program does. They are also not structured to effective develop strength and size. If an athlete is not in a proper strength program by the time they go through their growth spurt, they will have a much harder time developing the size and strength they need to play at the highest levels of hockey.

Dryland can be a valuable part of an athlete’s development but only if it is combined with an individually designed, testing based program that respect the principals of long term athlete development.


Intermittent Hypoxic Training

October 3, 2010

Even small improvements in performance often take hours of training, hours which for the recreationally competitive athlete are often difficult to find when they have to juggle family life, work and training. One of the most overlooked adjuncts to training that has continually shown performance benefits is intermittent hypoxic training. Intermittent hypoxic training (IHT) makes use of a machine that decreases the amount of oxygen that you breathe, simulating altitude. IHT training has been shown to increase power at both anaerobic threshold and VO2 max by 4-6% in as little as three weeks with daily use of IHT for an hour at a time. This is about the equivalent of six months or more of improvements from actual training for most age group athletes. The real advantage to IHT training is that it is a passive form of training, you sit there attached to the machine and breathe while reading, watching TV or responding to e-mail.

How Does it Work?

Hypoxia, a decrease in the oxygen content of the air you are breathing stimulates the release of erythropoietin, the hormone responsible for producing red blood cell. With repeated exposure you will gradually increase the total number of circulating red cells and the oxygen carrying capacity of your blood.

Many people mistakenly believe that the use of hematocrit, the cell component of blood, levels are a good indicator of whether the IHT is working or not. If you were to take hematocrit measures every day while using IHT you would likely see an increase in hematocrit for a short time and then a gradual decrease back to normal levels as blood volume increases. If you only take a hematocrit reading at the beginning, middle and end of the IHT program you are unlikely to see any changes.

The human body likes to maintain hematocrit within a relatively narrow range, normal variations in hematocrit are typically less than 4% over the course of a year. One of the primary adaptations to aerobic training is an increase in blood volume, resulting in a decrease in hematocrit levels, reducing blood viscosity and resistance to blood flow, and improving cardiac output. There is a strong positive correlation between blood volume and endurance performance but contrary to what many athletes believe there is a negative correlation between hematocrit and performance. In other words high hematocrit levels actually decrease aerobic capacity. A lower hematocrit keeps blood viscosity lower and improves blood flow rate which improves oxygen transportation and transfer of oxygen to the muscles.

Given the amount of time and effort that you put into your training, the investment in IHT training is well worth the possibility of doubling the amount of improvement most people typically see in a year.

References

Thirup, P. (2003). Hematocrit: Within subject and seasonal variation. Sports Medicine. 33(3) pp 231-243.

El syaed, M., Ali, N., and El sayed -Ali, Z. (2005).  Haemorohlogy in exercise and training. Sports Medicine. 35(8) pp 649-670.


Planning Your Program: A New Look at Periodization

July 27, 2010

Periodization is the process of breaking the year into training blocks or periods. Each period has a set of goals and a training focus so that the physical qualities needed for rowing are developed in a logical fashion so that you peak for your main race of the season. Traditional periodized models for rowing focus on the development of aerobic base early in the off season, move to anaerobic threshold level work and then to specific race pace and speed work just before the racing season. While this progression works well for some it does not take into account your individual needs nor does it take into account what types of training you are most ready for. An alternative form of periodization that is becoming more popular is one I like to call Reactive Planning.

Reactive Planning

Reactive planning uses the results of a set of tests to determine training priorities and periodization. Tests are repeated every 8-12 weeks and new priorities are set. Reactive Planning is an examination of how peak anaerobic power, VO2 max, anaerobic threshold, and aerobic threshold compare to each other. In an ideal situation you would expect to see the following relationships: Anaerobic threshold should be 80-85% of VO2 max, aerobic threshold should be 65-70% of VO2 max and VO2 max should be 40-45% of peak power.

Of course if you went to an exercise physiology lab and had all these variables measured you could get a very accurate picture of where you stand but this isn’t possible for everyone. Instead several simple tests you can perform on your own will give you a decent estimate of your proportional fitness. You will need to find all your data using the wattage setting on your erg because it is much easier to do calculations with wattage than it is with time.

VO2 max can be estimated as the average watts from a five minute test. Anaerobic threshold is close to the average watts used during a 20 minute test and aerobic threshold is approximately the wattage that corresponds to a 90 minute steady state workout. Peak power is the maximum wattage you see during an all out 10 second sprint working against a relatively high resistance. Do each of these tests on a separate day so that fatigue from one test does not interfere with the results of another test. Let’s assume you do all the tests and come up with the following data:

Table 1. Sample Data

Test Wattage
5 min 400 watts
20 minutes 295 watts
90 minute 180 watts
10 second sprint 750 watts

From this data we can calculate:

Table 2. Comparing the Sample to the Ideal

Actual Ideal
VO2 vs peak power 53% 45-48%
Anaerobic threshold vs VO2 74% 80-85%
Aerobic threshold vs VO2 45% 65-70%

Interpreting the Data

To understand the data we need to understand the relationship between the physiological points we are discussing and the concept of ceilings. Each of these physiological points can only get so close to the point above before you stop seeing progress. For instance if your anaerobic threshold gets to 85% of your VO2 max it becomes very difficult to move it any higher, this is not to say that you couldn’t get it to 90% but it may take years to get it to do so. You would probably get better race results by focusing your training elsewhere. If your VO2 max scores gets beyond 48% of your peak power you will have a really tough time improving your VO2 until your peak power goes up. Table 2 shows the results of our example and the ideal relationships between the physiological variables.

Looking at the results we see that VO2 max is a higher percentage of peak power than it should be, 53% versus the 45% ideal, suggesting that this person needs to improve their peak power or they will have difficulty improving their VO2 max.

Anaerobic threshold, as measured by a 20 minute test is 74% of VO2 max as opposed to the 85% ideal. This means the person in our example also needs to raise their anaerobic threshold but it is not being limited by their VO2max.

Finally we can also see that aerobic threshold, as measured by the 60 minute test is 45% of VO2 max instead of the 70% ideal, indicating a need for more low intensity long duration work.

Setting Your Training Focus

Now that you have the data and have determined what needs to be trained you can now set training priorities. Peak power always becomes the top priority if it is not within the expected ranges, since it can limit all the other variables. The secondary priority is the area with the biggest percentage difference between your score and the ideal. In the case of our example this would be aerobic threshold, which is 25% away from where it should be.

In our example this athlete would be doing some short very high intensity sprints during their training. It does not matter what time of year it is, their performance is being limited by their peak power so it must be improved before the other variables can reach their full potential. This is not to say they will only do the sprints, rather they become a priority and focus for the next period of training. The other fitness variables like aerobic base, and anaerobic threshold still need to be trained but they are not the priorities. When the tests are repeated before the start of the next training phase there may be a completely different set of priorities.

Reactive planning allows you to modify the traditional periodized training model for endurance sports based on your strengths and weakness and the variables that will be most adaptable. This may mean doing more speed work in the early winter when you may be used to focusing solely on aerobic base building but without addressing your weaknesses first you can spend a lot of time training with very little improvement.


Interval training

July 20, 2010

Interval training is a popular form of training amongst many athletes. While most rowers will use intervals at some point in the year few really understand the purpose of intervals or how get the most from this valuable training method.

Physiology of Interval Training

Interval training involves alternating periods of high intensity work with periods of lower intensity work, usually, but not always above and below anaerobic threshold. By alternating periods of higher intensity work with lower intensity work several things are accomplished:

The amount of high intensity work is maximized. If you were to try to hold an intensity above anaerobic threshold for as long as possible you would fatigue in just over 20 minutes. If you were to do 6 x 5 minute work intervals with a rest period in between you would have done 30 minutes of work above threshold. Since the volume of work above threshold was higher it should give you a greater training effect. The same holds true for VO2 max and anaerobic intervals.

During the work period of the interval you will be producing lactic acid, which your body will have to deal with during the rest period. Active slow twitch muscle fibers are capable of using lactic acid as an energy source. Repeatedly exposing your body to moderate levels of lactate and then allowing it to recover gradually trains your body to become more efficient at lactate removal as you r body develops the enzymes necessary to convert lactate back to glycogen or glucose. This will translate into lower lactate and faster times during a race since you will be able to deal with the lactate as it is produced. Of course this training effect will only happen if you have done adequate base training.

The aerobic capacity of fast twitch fibers is improved with interval training. The more often a fiber is activated the greater it’s oxidative capacity. Interval training is the only ways to activate the fast twitch fibers frequently enough to improve their aerobic capacity, making them behave more like slow twitch fibers.

Designing an Interval Training Program

Interval training is high intensity and needs to be planned very carefully in order to avoid overtraining. The most important component of an interval program is the base work that is done prior to starting intervals. The initial 6-8 weeks of your training should be devoted almost exclusively to low intensity long duration training, 60 minutes or more per session. This will prime the slow twitch fibers and improve their fitness, so that they can accept the lactate that will be produced when intervals are started, allowing you to make effective use of interval training.

The Work Period

The duration of the work period will vary depending on the intensity of the interval. A work load just above anaerobic threshold will need long intervals, 5-10 minutes, while higher intensity anaerobic intervals can be as short as five seconds. Consistency is the most important factor in interval training. The power output or split time should be the same for each work piece of an interval session. In other words if you are doing 5 minutes at 1:55/500 on the first interval all other intervals should be done at the same pace. This ensures that you are maintaining the appropriate intensity and recruiting the same muscle fibers in each interval, improving the training effect. It does very little for you to do an interval session where the first interval is 1:55 the next is 1:59 the next 2:02 etc. Be sure to choose an interval duration and split time that allows you to be consistent throughout the workout.

Choosing paces for the work intervals requires a little up front work on your part. You need to have an idea of your splits for both anaerobic threshold and VO2 max. Procedures for determining these points were set out in my article “Is Your Training Focused Properly?” published in IRN February 2003. Training splits will normally be set at anaerobic threshold, VO2 max or half way between.

The Rest Period

The rest period is as important as the work period. The purpose of the rest period is to allow time to remove the lactate created during the work interval, and allow the anaerobic alactic energy system to replenish itself. During aerobic intervals, intervals longer than two minutes, the rest period is active, meaning you continue to row but at a lower intensity. The duration of the rest period will depend on the duration and intensity of the work period. Aerobic intervals will vary for a 1:1 to a 1:4 work rest ratio. Anaerobic intervals were covered last year in another article. When choosing the duration of your rest period, follow these simple guidelines: 1). The longer the work the shorter the rest

Longer intervals are normally done at lower intensity, requiring a shorter rest period. A five minute interval just above anaerobic threshold will produce moderate levels of lactate requiring less time to recover so a 1:1 or 1:1.5 work to rest ratio can be used. A higher intensity two minute interval will produce more lactate and therefore require a longer recovery. 2). Adjust the duration of the rest period so that you can maintain a consistent split during the work period. It may happen that you decide to do 5 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest, repeated 5 times. Half way through the workout you notice that you can’t hold the same work split. Finish the training session, coming as close as possible to the desired splits. For the next session increase the duration of the rest period by 50%. If you still cannot hold the desired splits for all the work periods drop the splits for the rest period by about 10% for the next workout.

Table 1: Work and Rest Period for Various Interval Intensities

Type of Interval

Work Period

Work:Rest

Notes

Anaerobic Threshold 3-10 min 1: 1 or 1:1.5 Just above and just below threshold
Supra threshold-Sub Max 2-7 min 1:2 or 1:3 Halfway between AT and VO2 max. Recovery in Zone 1
VO2 max 1-4 min 1:3 or 1:4 Work at VO2 max recovery in Zone 1 VI
Anaerobic Sprints 5-60 seconds 1:6 All out sprint passive recovery

Most rowers who race 2000m will use some combination of all four types of intervals in their training program. For those rowing 1000m races the VO2 max and anaerobic sprints should make up the bulk of your interval training, while those doing only head races will focus their interval training on anaerobic threshold intervals.

While interval training is a great way to improve speed, it is easy to overdo it and do yourself more harm than good so take it easy when starting by doing only one session per week and increasing by one session per week every two weeks until your are doing at most four sessions per week.


Beta Alanine Supplementation

July 7, 2010

If you pick up any fitness magazine or walk into any nutrition store you will find dozens of products that claim to improve performance, with more showing up on the store shelves every month. In most cases the claims are exaggerated with very few products actually improving performance. Every now and then however a product does come along that lives up to the hype; about twenty years ago that product was creatine, which has gone on to become the most researched performance enhancing supplement with the vast majority of studies supporting it’s use in most athlete groups.  Recently another product has started to show that same type of promise: Beta alanine. Beat alanine supplementation has been reported to decrease fatigue associated with higher intensity exercise.

Fatigue during Exercise

Fatigue, defined as the inability to carry on a given level of work, is a complex phenomenon with many factors contributing simultaneously. While the inability of the nervous system to activate muscle fibres, interference with calcium release or uptake within the muscle, structural damage to muscle fibres, heat, and depletion of energy stores are some of the main culprits, an accumulation of metabolites like ADP, inorganic phosphate,  lactate and hydrogen ions are among the most well known contributors to fatigue.

There has been an ongoing debate about the role of lactate in fatigue. Research conducted in the 1970s suggested that lactate was a major contributor to fatigue. Many of these studies were correlation studies that did not look at cause and effect. While there was a correlation between the amount of lactate that was produced and fatigue more recent research has shown that lactate itself does not contribute to fatigue and may actually work to prevent fatigue. The production of hydrogen ions, from various sources in the series of chemical reactions that take place when the anaerobic energy systems are used, can lead to a decrease in the pH of the cell; interfering with energy production and muscle contraction.

Buffers

Buffers are the body’s chemical agents that keep pH in the cells within normal range. There are a variety of buffers that the body uses. Bicarbonate is the most important extracellular buffer, meaning that it maintains the pH outside of the cells. It has been known for many years that ingesting sodium bicarbonate, baking soda, can increase the effectiveness of the bicarbonate buffering system in the body and delay fatigue in high intensity sports. For many people ingesting baking soda causes stomach problems and can lead to vomiting or diarrhoea, unpleasant side effects at the best of times but particularly problematic during competition.  Carnosine is the primary intramuscular buffer found in humans, it also seems to have positive effects on the nervous system, acts as an antioxidant and may have anti aging effects.  Carnosine does not appear to be increased by exercise  but supplementation with Beta Alanine does increase intramuscular carnosine and improve buffer capacity.

Effects on Performance

The majority of studies suggest that beta alanine can enhance performance in sports where there are maximal or near maximal efforts for 60s to 5 minutes. Shorter duration sprints and strength training do not seem to benefit as much from beta alanine use, although total work volume in strength training sessions can be improved by as much as 20% following beta alanine supplementation. Whether the increase in work volume can translate into better training adaptations and performance improvements is not known. Two studies have shown improvements in power at anaerobic threshold following beta alanine supplementation and slight improvements (2.5%) in time to exhaustion at anaerobic threshold.

Supplementation Protocol

Several studies have been done on to find the optimal protocol for taking beat alanine. It appears that ability of beta alanine to increase carnosine is dose dependant, 6-7 g per day give best results. Beta alanine supplements often cause tingling sensations in various parts of the body, particularly in the head and neck region. This can become quite intense and unpleasant if large doses are taken at one time. The tingling can start within minutes of taking the supplement and last for up to an hour.  Smaller doses spread throughout the day or time release capsules seem to decrease or eliminate the tingling. Beta alanine supplementation is not an acute response supplement it needs to be done over an extended period of time for significant effects to be noticed, usually 28 days or more.

Adverse Effects

Currently the only known adverse effects associated with beta alanine supplementation is the tingling that is noticed shortly after taking the supplement.

References

  1. Allen DG, Lamb GD, Westerblad H. Skeletal muscle fatigue: cellular mechanisms. Physiol Rev. 2008;88(1):287–332.
  2. ARTIOLI, G. G., B. GUALANO, A. SMITH, J. STOUT, and A. H. LANCHA, JR. Role of A-Alanine Supplementation on Muscle Carnosine and Exercise Performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 42, No. 6, pp. 1162–1173, 2010
  3. Boning D, Maassen N. Last word on point:counterpoint: lactic acid is/is not the only physicochemical contributor to the acidosis of exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2008;105(1):368.
  4. Cairns SP. Lactic acid and exercise performance: culprit or friend? Sports Med. 2006;36(4):279–91.

Breathing Stronger

July 1, 2010

The regular use of strength training has been slow to catch on with endurance athletes. While there is evidence that strength training decreases both acute and chronic injury in these athletes, and improves running and cycling efficiency by 3-8% many endurance athletes simply do not enjoy lifting weights. This may be due in part to what is being trained. Traditional programs focus on the major muscles of the legs, hips, back, and shoulders of endurance athletes. A new trend has emerged in recent years that includes the training of the muscles used in breathing.

Breathing is something we take for granted.  We don’t think about the work that goes on every time we breathe, either at rest or during normal daily activity. During very intense exercise, like that experienced during interval training or racing, up to 15% of the energy produced is consumed by respiratory muscles. This is energy not used to make the athlete go faster and can put a pretty big dent in your body’s carbohydrate stores, requiring more fueling during the event.

There are several respiratory training devices on the market designed to improve the strength and efficiency of the inspiratory musculature, those muscles that allow us to inhale. This is done by increasing airflow resistance through a special valve.

A study from Great Britain examined the effects of 11 weeks of inspiratory muscle training on rowing performance as measured by a 6-minute all-out test and a 5000 m test both on the Concept II rowing ergometer. Fourteen female competitive rowers (All-British National Team candidates) participated in the study. They were broken into two groups. The first, trained twice a day using 30 breaths per session at a resistance equal to 50% of the maximum inspiratory pressure they could generate (inspiratory pressure is the maximum pressure that can be generated when breathing in). The second group, a placebo group, trained once a day, 60 breaths with 15% of maximum inspiratory pressure, a training protocol that does not significantly increase inspiratory muscle strength. The athletes were tested at the start of the study, at four weeks, and again at the end of the study.

The training group improved their 6-minute test performance by 3.4% after four weeks of breathing training while the placebo group only increased by 1.1%. By the end of the 11 weeks the training group had improved by 3.5% and the placebo group had improved by 1.6%. The researchers suggest that the difference of 1.9% improvement between the two groups is the result of the inspiratory muscle training.

In addition, the training group improved their 5000 m test time by an average of 36 seconds, while the placebo group improved by only 11 seconds. These results were brought about by a 41% improvement in respiratory muscle function for the training group and 5% for the placebo group, as measured by an increase in maximal inspiratory pressure.

While a 1.9% net improvement doesn’t seem like a lot, many races are won or lost by much less than 1.9%. This is equal to almost seven seconds over a 2000 m course. One of the interesting things to come out of this study was that almost all of the performance improvements came in the first four weeks of the eight week training program. This may be due to the fact that the resistance was self-adjusted during the study and not subject to a periodized plan.

While respiratory muscle training does not solve all an endurance athlete’s performance problems, the results of this study clearly suggest that a high level athlete may benefit from respiratory muscle training. Whether these results can be applied to athletes with lower fitness levels remains to be seen.  Additionally, there is still a lot of work to do to find the most effective training program for these muscles.

The main mistake that people make when using inspiratory muscle training devices is that they try to train while using the device. This is nearly impossible if the device is set up properly. These machines are meant to increase the resistance to airflow coming into the lungs. It is like lifting weights for your diaphragm and other breathing muscles; you wouldn’t try to do squats while riding your bike would you? Set up a training session using sets and reps just like weight training. Start with 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, gradually increase the resistance on the inspiratory trainer over a period of 4-8 weeks.

Inspiratory muscle training is not going to suddenly cause huge changes in your race performances but it is one of the small things that you can do without a lot of cost or effort.  If you do enough small things they can all add up to big performance improvements.

(As a side note, personal communication with rowing coaches from Britain and Australia revealed that at least two medal winning boats from the Sydney Olympics included inspiratory muscle training as part of their preparation for the Games.)

References

Voliantis, S., McConnell, A., Koutedakis, Y., McNaughton, L., Backx, K., and Jones, D. (2001). Inspiratory muscle training improves rowing performance. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. 33(5) pp 803-809.


Warm Up

June 22, 2010

Warm up is now considered an essential part of a workout or pre competition routine. While originally thought to be primarily a means of preventing injury, it is now commonly accepted that the main purpose of warm up is to improve performance with injury prevention taking a secondary role. The positive effects of warm up occur because of several mechanisms; increased muscle temperature, cardiac adaptations, injury prevention and mental rehearsal.

Increased Muscle Temperature

An increase in body temperature is one of the main physiological adaptations to warming up.  The increase results from unused energy and dissipated heat produced by friction from sliding muscle filaments during contraction. The elevated temperature results in a more rapid and complete dissociation of oxygen from hemoglobin enhancing oxidative processes in the muscle and increasing VO2 max. Increased body temperature stimulates vasodilation in the working muscle increasing blood flow through the muscle and reduced muscle viscosity increasing mechanical efficiency. Nerve conduction velocity is improved resulting in faster contractions and relaxation of muscles. The heart rate increases and lactic acid production decreases after warming up.  All these changes add up to improved performance following warm up.

Cardiac Adaptations

Heart problems such as myocardial ischemia, arrythmias, and sudden cardiac death can occur during exercise. These problems tend to occur most often in middle-aged and older men. When exercise is combined with other coronary risk factors such as hypertension, cigarette smoking, obesity, and high cholesterol the risk of exercise related cardiac problems increases.

Warming up, however, may help prevent serious damage to the heart. In one study it was reported that 68% of their subjects, men aged 21 to 52, experienced abnormal ECG readings when they exercised without warming up. Jogging easily for two minutes before the training session though eliminated the abnormal ECG readings in most subjects and reduced it in the others. Abnormal readings seen during training without a warm up have been attributed to the inability of coronary blood flow to meet the demands that the exercise session places on the heart muscle.

Injury Prevention

Preventing injuries, such as muscle strains and tears, is often suggested as one of the primary benefits of warm up. Even though most coaches suggest that warming up can help prevent injuries most of the evidence is empirical and that very few, if any, studies can show that warming up decreases the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries. This is in part because during a study a researcher would never set out to injure their subjects intentionally. It is hypothesized that warming up can help prevent injuries because it stretches the muscle tendon unit resulting in a greater length for a given load; this places less tension on the muscle-tendon junction reducing the potential for injury. However, the majority of musculoskeletal injuries occur because of strength or flexibility imbalances and therefore not affected by warm up.

Mental Rehearsal

Warm up provides an athlete the time to mentally review and prepare for the training session of competition that follows. Visualizing the activities to follow increases nervous system arousal, increasing the number of motor units activated, improving strength and power activities and enhancing skill acquisition.

Types of warm ups

There are three types of warm ups: passive, general and specific. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Passive warm up

A passive warm up increases temperature through external means. Massage, hot showers, lotions, and heating pads are common forms. Although these methods increase body temperature, they produce little positive effect on performance. Several researchers have compared the effects of active, passive and no warm up on physiological markers of performance. They found that the passive warm up did not increase VO2, or decrease blood lactate levels any more than no warm up. They did find though that the heart rate increased. A passive warm up, because of increased muscle temperature, may be suitable prior to a stretching exercise but should not be recommended as the sole means of warming up for intense physical activity.

General Warm Up

A general warm up increases temperature by using movements for the major muscle groups. Calisthenics and light jogging activities are most common. This type of warm up is meant to increase temperature in a variety of muscles using general movement patterns. This is a good warm up for a fitness class but should not serve as the sole form of warm up for athletic training or events.

Specific Warm Up

The specific warm up is designed to prepare the participant for the specific demands of the upcoming activity. The specific warm up helps psychological readiness, co-ordination of specific movement patterns, and prepares the central nervous system. A specific warm up usually consists of a simulation of some technical component of the activity at work rates that increase progressively. For example, an Olympic weightlifter will perform the snatch with heavier weights progressively until reaching 80-90% of the opening attempt. Because of the rehearsal component of this type of warm, it is the preferred method for sports activities, particularly high speed and power activities.

Designing a warm up

A good warm up has both a general and specific component and may include a passive component if the athlete feels they perform better when they use some sort of a topical analgesic like Tiger Balm.

General Warm Up

Full body Calisthenics

A warm up starts with some full body calisthenics. Exercises like jumping jacks, rope jumping, push ups, sit ups, and lunges are full body exercises that will increase body temperature. These exercises should be done for only 1- 2 minutes at a time as the goal of warm up is to increase temperature not create fatigue.

Stretching

Dynamic stretching is a more effective means of warm up stretching than static stretching, meaning that rather than holding a stretch for a period of time you move through a full range of motion and then back to your starting position immediately without holding the stretch. This is particularly true when you are doing power training. Several studies have shown that a static stretch immediately before power training can significantly decrease subsequent power development. This is because the static stretch decreases the effectiveness of the stretch shortening cycle.

Duration of General Warm Up

The amount of time needed to warm up depends on the type and intensity of the activity as well as environmental conditions. For someone engaged in a light jogging program 10 minutes may be sufficient for a warm up. Elite level athletes may require 30 or 40 minutes to warm up depending on the nature of the event, with higher intensity events requiring longer warm ups. Exercising in a warm environment requires a shorter warm up than exercising in a cold one. In a normal environment the onset of sweating is usually a good indicator that body temperature has increased sufficiently.

Specific Warm Up

The nature of the specific warm up depends on the activity to follow. Keep in mind that warm up is just that warm up not training, fatigue should be kept to a minimum during warm up otherwise the training session will suffer.

Warming Up for Strength Training

When weight training, do at least two sets, one at 50% and one at 75% of the work weight, before using the working weight. Very strong people need to do more sets. Many elite powerlifters and weightlifters use six to eight warm up sets prior to opening attempts in competition. Repetitions in warm up sets are low, 1-4, and done at a controlled speed. Warm up sets are done for every exercise in the program, not just the first exercise.

Warming Up for Speed, Agility and Power Training

As in weight training a warm up for speed, agility and power events or training uses warm up sets. Prior to each drill start with a walk through set that allows you to rehearse the drill in your mind and remind you of the movements and changes of direction that have to be made. Following the walk through perform two progressively faster trials, one at about half speed and one at three quarter speed. Be sure to focus on good technique during each of the warm up sets, the way you perform in warm up will be the way you perform in the training session.

Warming Up for Aerobic Training

Since most of the aerobic training you will be doing is low intensity there isn’t a specific portion to the warm up. If you were to do higher intensity aerobic intervals you would start with 10 –15 minutes of light jogging prior to starting the interval portion on the session.

A good warm up can make the difference between an adequate and a personal best performance. If you are having trouble int eh early parts of an event or seem to get a second wind take a look at your warm up it may need some fine tuning.


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