Warm-ups: Are warm-ups a waste of time?
Wilf Paish is well know in athletic coaching circles for having coached many track and field stars to success on the International stage; and. after several decades working as a professional coach, he was recently inducted as a member of the Coaching Hall of Fame. This is a man who must have supervised thousands of warm-ups. But in the latest edition of The Coach, he questions the text book theories expounding the virtues of warming up and goes so far as to ask whether there is any point in warming up at all?
Before we consider his arguments, let’s take a look at what a warm-up is supposed to achieve. Some common arguments in favour of warming up is that it boosts metabolic rate, accelerates the heart rate, so enhancing oxygen and energy transportation to working muscles, and increases the speed of both nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Warming up is also thought by proponents to reduce the risk of injury (The Oxford Dictionary of Sport Science and Medicine, M Kent, 1996). The bottom line is that it prepares the body for the activity it is about to undertake.
So why does Wilf Paish cast doubt on this theory? His arguments stem from his early days as a teacher when, faced with an average lesson of just 30 minutes, he decided that his priority was to spend as much time as possible teaching the fundamental movements and skills required for sport. Lengthy warm-up’s simply ate into that precious time, so, instead of sending his pupils off to jog several laps of the playing field, he would focus instead on teaching the core sporting skills.
When Wilf moved into the world of professional coaching, he maintained his stance on the value of warm-ups. He saw little point in getting a shot-putter to run several laps of the track before the start of a session; instead he would have his athletes perform slower drills with the shot, gradually warming up to full speed. His hunch seemed to be backed up by observations of Eastern bloc athletes who never seemed to complete lengthy warm up routines, opting instead for a couple of low-intensity yet highly specific warm-up drills immediately prior to competition. When the events started, these athletes would then step out into the arena and blow the opposition away.
In reviewing Wilf’s article, I would suggest that his athletes have always warmed up for events, but not in the traditional way adopted by many coaches. In place of typical warm-up drills such as steady jogging and static stretching (the value of the latter being another current topic for debate!) Wilf has encouraged his athletes to complete, dynamic sporting movements at increasing intensities. But such short yet specific routines still achieve many of the warm-up functions mentioned at the start of this article.
So is Wilf right to question the benefits of warming up? In my view, he is definitely entitled to ask the coaching community to think about the value of extensive warm-up routines that bear little relation to actual sporting events. And in this respect Wilf, he has been one step ahead of the game. It is only recently sport scientists have caught up with him, and we are now starting to see recommendations to move away from extensive non event-related warm-ups. In my role as a strength and conditioning coach, working with high performance athletes, I would certainly recommend that coaches and athletes consider carefully what they do as part of their warm-up, and make sure it relates specifically to their sporting event.
Is warming up just a waste of time? I don’t think so and, having read Wilf’s article, I believe he is of the same opinion, as long as the warm-up is not too long and the activities within it are dynamic and specific to the skills needed in the sporting event to follow.
The Coach Issue 14, pp 30-31
warm-ups, warm-up drills
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