Wednesday, 10 October 2012

What exactly should a warm-up be?

The warm up is such a fundamental part of exercising that I think it is easy to overlook the exact purpose of doing it or what exercises constitute the best warm up activity. I even have my doubts as to whether a warm up is really necessary.

Last week we started the class with breakfalls. No warm-up. I was dubious about the wisdom of this at first, thinking that we might get some injuries but I actually enjoyed breakfalling from cold – it warmed me up much more quickly than a usual warm-up and I felt ready for action all session. No one suffered any injuries or pulls. So did the breakfalling constitute the warm-up?

Last night I arrived late for class and the other students had already done their warm-up. I arrived just as the class was about to start a round of breakfalls, so I just did them – from cold again. They went well and I felt fine – I felt warmed up and ready for action. So does this mean that breakfalling was my warm up again?

Usually our warm-up consists of either running around the hall for a couple of minutes or jogging on the spot, star jumps, press-ups, burpees, sit-ups and straight leg raises followed by a few dynamic stretches. This lasts between 5-10 minutes. Occasionally we warm-up with some fast kihon moves or sparring moves followed by stretching. When I used to do my kobudo classes the warm-up was similar.

When my husband used to belong to a jujitsu club the warm-up lasted for 45 minutes and consisted of many static stretches as well as a cardio-vascular warm-up.

Whichever way I have been asked to warm up I have not suffered any injuries as a result of not warming up sufficiently. However, I usually feel more ready for action if I have ‘warmed-up’ doing the activity I am participating in (i.e. karate moves/breakfalling) than if I have warmed up doing ‘warm-up exercises’ (i.e. running, star-jumps, press-ups, stretching etc). This begs the question – what’s the purpose of the warm-up?

My understanding of this question is that the warm-up is designed to prepare the body for action by increasing the heart rate and warming up the muscles. Well, I don’t need special exercises to increase my heart rate – just doing karate does that. Also, my muscles are at a constant 37 degrees centigrade whether I’m exercising or not – it’s called body temperature. So perhaps I’m trying to increase blood flow to the muscles rather than increase their temperature…

Doesn’t it make more sense to increase the blood flow to the muscles you’re actually going to use rather than a random selection of them? I mean, if I’m going to punch and kick doesn’t it make sense to warm up my punching and kicking muscles? I don’t need to isolate them out with special exercises I just need to start punching and kicking – but more slowly and carefully until the blood flow has increased. If the session is going to be mainly a throwing one will breakfalls warm me up better than jogging and press-ups? If I’m doing a kata based session then wouldn’t doing some kata warm me up best?

Runners run best when they warm up by jogging a couple of rounds of the track. It has been advocated that weight trainers warm up by lifting the empty bar or going through the range of weight exercises they propose to do but without the weights first to warm up the correct muscles. They should then add half the weight they want to lift and repeat the range of movements before finally getting onto the full weight they intend to work with.

In other words, you warm-up best by getting on with the activity you intend to be doing but at a slower and gentler pace until your heart rate has increased and the blood flow to the correct muscles has increased.

This makes more sense to me. I don’t feel I get any real benefit from jumping and jogging around doing ‘warm-up’ exercises, despite what conventional wisdom tells me.  I’m all for starting my karate sessions with a round of breakfalling, kihon, kata or kumite – starting at a steady pace and increasing the intensity as I warm-up.

What about you? Do you swear by your warm-up routine or does it just get in the way of doing your main activity?

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Charles Indelicato said...

In the dojang I trained at (where my son still trains), students are encouraged to warm-up on their own with stretching before class. The moment the class begins there is a cardio exercise of some kind (jumping jacks, squat-thrusts, etc.). Some students do not arrive early enough or take advantage of the opporunity to warm-up before class, however.

The Sabunim prefers this sort of 'cold' start since were anyone to meet an assailant in real-world situation, there would be no opportunity to 'warm-up'.

The Strongest Karate said...

responding to Charles I's comment...I am not a fan of cold starts in the dojo and I question the wisdom of any master who justifies it with "well on the streets...". The training hall is for training. If it were the street then we'd be in ordinary clothes, shoes, and often carry small weapons.

As for my school, our warm ups will usually consist of running a circle around the dojo forwards, backwards, side-shuffle, high knee march, and switch footing. After that its bear walk, spiderman pushups, and crab walks. Then kihon.

Charles James said...

This begs the question – what’s the purpose of the warm-up?

First, warm-up's may be indicative of a more western influence and approach. Out side of the pond tends to use them for sport oriented activities outside the actual discipline. We don't play football to warm up for football, etc.

Military, a strong heritage toward the martial arts in the west, naturally used warm-up type exercises to prepare for things military and I theorize this was added by the military because my learning of Isshinryu in the day, i.e. 1950's etc., that in the honbu dojo you came in, dressed or undressed depending on the time of year and simply began with the upper and lower basic techniques. Warm-up's came later.

The purpose of warm-up's regardless of the nature or type used simply warms up the body, i.e. increase the heart rate, stretch and pump up the tendons, muscles, cartilege and skeletal systems to ready the body for hard work or in our case "combat/fighting."

Actually, I believe that many times we must practice from a cold state and go immediately into full blown all out effort because in a violent encounter, especially predatory attacks, you have no time to warm up and you need to act quickly.

Nice post, excellent relevance and good point. Last, in my dojo days warm-up's and exercise for fitness was done on the participants own time as I expected to jump into karate from the get go so warm-ups came from basic techniques, kata and so on as you describe. Cold starts done similar to makiwara training models will condition the body to endure it when needed but the key is moderation until the conditioning is set - pretty much.

Charles Indelicato said...

@The Strongest Karate

Your point is valid, but to it I ask Why then don't we train in street clothes? Conveience surely plays a part; being able to deliver kicks and punches appropriately, and work up a sweat, etc.

However being able to react quickly to a (potentially) critical situation is not to be dismissed.

Charles James said...

p.s. response to "street clothing." In the last five years I have trained and practiced exclusively in my every day street attire.

At first is felt kind of different but in time it was natural. The only caveat is I tend to wear looser clothing like dockers and sneakers.

I also kick the makiwara with the sneakers on for heel kicks, ball of foot kicks and side kicks knife edge since I suspect that if I use my feet it would be those, below the waist too.

The shirt is a T-shirt type collarless shirt so my upper body is always free from restrictive type clothing.

Anyway, your right, training in a clean and comfortable training facility is enjoyable but to train for reality requires stepping outside the box, so to speak ;-)

Felicia said...

Hmmm...Interesting questions, Sue. Let me preface my response by saying I'm a former track and field person who trained in running shoes and track spikes for almost three times as long as I've been on the mat. The purpose of warming up - as both you and Mr. James have already indicated - really is to prepare the body for the intense activity (running, bowling, football, stick fighting, tag, kata - you get the idea) it is about to engage it in. It does get the blood going to the muscles, tendons and ligaments responsible for moving the body to and fro, but it also warms up the heart and cardiovascular system responsible for oxygenating those muscles/tendons/ligaments. A warmup for any activity should invove elevating the heart rate and prepping the rest of the system with some sort of movement (running, burpees, jumping jacks, whatever) and some sort of stretching of those muscles/tendons and ligaments (and that being said, one should never stretch a cold muscle as teeny muscle tears result - but I digress).

For me, my warmup does just that. It used to be the exact same thing each time at my old school (which I left over three years ago). But now, it varies and can include LIGHT running, jogging in place, high-knees, jumping jacks and/or burpees or the like. I've also warmed up with kata or breakfalls and been good to go. Like you, Sue, my warmup doesn't last usually for more than 10-15 minutes. What I truly hate is when too may cals and/or abdominal work - like a mini TacFit or PX90-style workout - is the warmup. I've had instructors who were determined to do a 30-45 minute "warmup" before the meat of class begins - but that's not warming up, that's a workout. I train every day with cardio, weights, kihone/kata in some form or other, so I prefer not to spend a quarter or more of the two hour karate class doing stuff that could - and should - be done on non-dojo days, if that makes sense.

My former Shihan required that you warmed up on your own before class, as he prefered to start with kihon or kata or whatever was the instruction for the night instead of cals and stuff. I really liked his approach. But when I teach youngsters and/or newbies, I do spend about 20 minutes on the warmup/stretching, because I know that most of them do not do much else yet formally outside of the dojo, with the exception of spontaneous play outside (do kids really do that type of stuff anymore?!?) or a few adults who do Zumba, CrossFit or regularlly lift weights.

But I think a brief something something to get the heart rate up before stretching then followed by exercises specifically geared to whatever the activity you are warming up to do is a good way to prepare. At least it is for me - and even moreso as I get older.

Sue C said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. Here's a few points to pick up on:

# as Charles J says, the concept of warming up with cardio exercises is a Western innovation. In traditional Okinawan dojos, lessons began with junbi undo exercises which were aimed to take all the joints through their full range of movement to loosen them up and prepare the ligaments and muscles for the karate training that lay a head. Junbi undo was also the time for preparing the mind and focusing on breathing. Junbi undo is specific for preparing the body for karate training. Western style warm ups are not - they are too general.

# Cold starts are not really cold starts - you just warm up gradually with the main activity rather than with unrelated exercises.

#Do you think there is confusion between a warm-up and a work out in some martial arts circles? At what point does a warm-up become a work-out? Is a work out better done at the end of a karate session rather than at the beginning?

#Are extended warm ups/work outs just ways of padding out the time in class. Time which should be spent learning the martial art?

I appreciate that I'm playing Devil's advocate a bit here but I really think we should examine our reasons for warming up the way we do. I think sometimes we do things out of habit, convention or just because we don't know how else to do it...

Charles James said...

Do you think there is confusion between a warm-up and a work out in some martial arts circles?

Yes, I suspect that many refer to warm-ups but actually expect a good hard work out. I was a guest black belt for a while in a local dojo where I introduced Chi Gong exercises in lieu of "warm-ups." They hated it because they didn't "feel" like it was enough which was due to the lack of hard sweat induced exercise, i.e. not really warm-ups.

At what point does a warm-up become a work-out?

That line is moving and dependent on the individual. A person I know can barely speed walk without feeling like it was hard work, ergo a work out. Then there is this guy who feels if he is not sweating profusely, heart rate through the roof and muscles pumped with blood like a body builder he is not working out and anything less is a warm-up.

Is a work out better done at the end of a karate session rather than at the beginning?

Since I feel a solid training session is actually a work out when done correctly this question is sorta moot for me. I know that stretching muscles, tendons, and ligaments is good for the body before and after as a sort of step-up and cool-down model. I suspect your description of junbi undo speaks to that as well when taught and done correctly :-)

Are extended warm ups/work outs just ways of padding out the time in class. Time which should be spent learning the martial art?

Yes, yes, yes .... I have attended many such training halls only to find that they spend more time exercising in the warm-ups and basics then they do actually learing karate. These halls also spend little or not time actually applying karate in fighting scenario's or in sparring sessions. It often felt to me like it was an exotic social club where they sweat a little then go out for beers and pizza after (not saying beer and pizza after is a bad thing ;-).

John Coles said...

citHi Sue

Warm ups. Good topic.

Jan de Jong was old school and never incorporated, or so it would appear to the uninformed. Training some basis such as taisabaki etc at the beginning of the class was warming up. In fact, it was 'functional' warming up. This is what you are referring to with regards to warming up generally or specifcially for the skills to be practiced.

I would challenge you to support that warming up is a Western concept. The Japanese would not have continued a training methodology that increased injury.

There is a time imperitave. Do you want to go to a class where you spend between 25-50% of the time running around the dojo or jumping up and down? Warm up. But warm up funtionally that also incorporates training skills you are learning and practicing.

Sue C said...

Charles, thanks for your detailed answers (you've not really retired at all have you ;)). I tend to think that if you are dripping wet with sweat after the warm up you have gone to far - you've done a workout. Dripping wet at the end of the session yes but after the warm up you should be, well, just warm!

John, 'Functional warm up' - that's the phrase I was looking for! I definitely think this is a better way of preparing yourself for action.

I wasn't suggesting that only Westerners warm-up, it was more to do with the way they warm up that is different to the way the Japanese traditionally did it. I'm just saying that it probably was Westerners who developed the idea of running, jumping, burpees, press-ups etc as a warm up rather than keeping it functional. Whether that idea came from the military as Charles suggested or from the sports fraternity I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

We warm up - in one club we played football for 10/15 minutes with a range of sit ups, push ups, lunges etc in between once we had got warmer.

In current club we practise with kickpads, do some short interval style running, bending, jumping occasionally, some stretches once we've done some cardio of some sort.

If we arrive early and there's space we can practice patterns or some very light sparring moves.

Having suffered from back injury flaring up - it was already on it's way to trouble but by doing some kicks too intensely in the warm up was not good.

Sue C said...

Nicola, I hope your back gets better - something's wrong if you get injured in the warm-up!

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