Time- and energy saving tips for the explosive athlete.

1. Don’t warm-up
2. Don’t cool down

In principle the above could be the shortest post I ever wrote.
But of course, the recommendations above need some explaining. As we all know coaches are in general 20-30 years ahead of the findings by sports sciences. Sport scientists often only just confirm what we already now, but thanks anyway.

Warming-up.

No warming-up? Once warming-up was an unconditional part of the training: jog and stretch (general warming-up) followed by drills (more specific warming-up) and then one should be ready for main part of the training-session or competition. Isn’t that logical? Indeed it is, if you are not a critical thinker. I asked myself the following questions:

1. What is the real purpose of warming-up?
2. How long does it take before we accomplish this?
3. What would happen if the athlete would not warm-up?

A few simple answers were given by some of my athletes.

1. One of my sprinters, sitting next to me for almost one hour, thinking he did not make it to the 100 meter finals, suddenly heard his name announced for the finals. He asked my advice and I told him to go and run. He grabbed his spikes, put them on, got into the blocks and ran 0.1 sec faster than he did in the heats, for which he warmed-up for 45 minutes.

2. Another of my sprinters was late for competition, and did the same like the sprinter above and ran his year’s best performance.

3. A female sprinter and Olympic medalist wanted me to coach her and we agreed to do a small, first work-out the next day. This was at a World-championship were she had run disappointingly. She asked: “should I do my training warming-up or my competition warming-up”. I asked: “what is the difference?” She said: “my training warming-up is 60 minutes and my competition warming-up is 90 minutes”. I said well, “too bad, because you got only 5 minutes and then I want to do a time trial over 60 meters for me to observe. Because I have to go inside the stadium to see my other athletes compete”. She looked at me in disbelief, really shocked and thought I was crazy: “I will pull all the muscles in my body if I don’t warm-up properly”. So I said: “I will take that risk and you better hurry up, you lost 15 seconds already….” She did run the 60 meter in a personal best, timed by three of my colleagues as well. And she did not pull any muscle.

4. For a piece of anecdotal proof, I refer to an interview. So it’s not my story, it is the athlete herself. (The interview appeared on the website of European Athletics on January 30, 2007)

quote
“Cooman faced a different pressure as defending champion the following year and on the face of it her preparations had not been ideal for Madrid. Her old rival Göhr had defeated her two weeks before during the championship in Liévin and she had also finished an unthinkable second in the Dutch Championships. However, Cooman was playing a canny game and was unperturbed by the defeats.
“I had trained very well in Los Angeles that winter and even my coach said ‘you are in form, let it go’ of my defeats in minor competitions,” explained Cooman. “I was confident and always liked to save myself for the big events.”
But her maverick coach Henk Kraaijenhof thought of a novel approach to her preparation before the competition by making her frustratingly sit out her warming-up to watch the opposition.
“I hated my coach at that point but what he was doing was making me greedy to run,” she said of the unusual pre-race routine.
The plan worked to perfection and Cooman defended her title in style in a stunning new world record of 7.00 beating Göhr (7.08)”.
Unquote

So, breaking a world-record without a snippet of warming-up, no jog, stretch, strides or drills? YES!

The obvious purpose of warming-up is to increase the temperature of the body, to increase the speed of enzymatic processes, to redistribute blood flow to the working muscles, to open capillaries, to decrease friction between different structures (muscles, fascia). And to increase the anticipatory sympathetic activity, to increase adrenaline, heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.
But some people are able to consciously control their autonomic nervous systems, like yogi’s (after many years of meditation), practitioners of biofeedback, but also some athletes, most of them unconsciously. And I got one of those.

So how long does it take to do all of this? Research tells us that it takes around 8 minutes to increase the body temperature to the optimal status. After that the body temperature does not increase anymore otherwise we would start boiling internally.

Half-jokingly I often say that drinking some good strong coffee and smoking a cigar would give us almost the same effect. (some of my athletes tried with good results, but you did not hear this from me).

In nature there not a lot of warming-up before sprinting: a cheetah never warms up properly but can accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour within seconds. It has no time to warm-up: the antelope doesn’t wait… neither does it warm-up before attempting to escape. And be honest, did you ever see a cheetah pull a hamstring?

But ….this only applies to explosive athletes with a lot of fast twitch fibres, my 400 and 800 meter runners do warm-up. If only for the aerobic process to become fully effective since the complex aerobic system consists many different metabolic steps to be activated.
The anaerobic processes reach their effect level much earlier and faster. Even so, explosive athletes should be educated and tought to optimize their warming-up in the training.

For me:
1. warming-up is mainly placebo, most athletes THINK they cannot do without, until reality proves them otherwise. Is has become a thoughtless routine.
2. it’s the mental aspect of warming-up, the self-regulation of arousal, taking the time to mentally prepare for the race, go through the race-pattern, visualise the start etc.

Cooling-down.

For starters: the name cooling down is wrong. When after a competition or training one sits down and relaxes the body cools down. However when after a competition or training the athlete jogs down, the body temperature decreases way slower.
Again, in former days we learned that the cooling-down is to prevent soreness and injuries by “flushing away” the breakdown products like lactate.
But why would you do that in the first place. Your training was meant to create lactate in order for the body and the muscles to adapt to the anaerobic training-stimulus. Lactate is a signal for the muscle, the metabolism and the enzymes to adapt. So by cooling down or flushing way lactate, you take away that valuable signal.
This does not only apply to lactate, there are many other signalling products such as inflammation substances, that cause an avalanche of processes, in the end leading to adaptation and hypertrophy of tissues.
So anti-inflammatory means of recovery, applied after the workout, like icing, cold baths or NSAID, blunt the adaptation response and decrease the training effect. If I am looking for a training effect during the training period: do not cool down.

Also motor learning plays a role. Apart from the fact that the motor pattern, in my case, of sprinting, can only be maintained for a few seconds, so why cover the effect of a previous speed training with slow jogging afterwards. The body always remembers best what it has done last.

It is completely different for the athletes who made it to the finals of a championship or games after today’s the preliminary rounds. In that case, I don’t care about a training effect, I care about an optimal performance the next day. So now I will do everything to avoid soreness and fatigue tomorrow and therefore the athlete can do a cooling down.

Finally, after 30 years sport science tries to surprise me with the research that questions the effect and the efficiency of cooling down. Really?

About Henk Kraaijenhof

My name is Henk Kraaijenhof and I started this blog as a random collection of concepts, ideas, stories and events that are important or interesting to me in my work as an international performance consultant in a wide range of fields, and sometimes outside of my work. I will try to post a new entry every 3-4 days. Feel free to comment if you like.
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12 Responses to Time- and energy saving tips for the explosive athlete.

  1. Piotr says:

    Coaching animals and children opens another perspective. I used to do the former and keep doing the later. Fly 10s is a staple of my youth program. Nothing unique. No warm up. Among several dosens of kids, there’s been one 13yrs old girl that keeps running faster over 5-6 attempts. All the rest hits their PB or close right from th get-go. Still not a warm-up thing I believe. More of a recruitment pattern in her case. She does 3-4 20m hard starts before the meet. My goal is to preserve their child like warm up ignorance for the rest of their active lives.

    Piotr M.

    • Hello Piotr, in fact, the evidence of the lack of effect is there, as well in practical sense as well as in theory. So what really puzzles me is the fact the many, if not most, coaches just stick to what they have learned and never question their knowledge or their teachers. Despite the fact that many coaches are seen as innovators (or they promote themselves being state-to-the-art coaches while in fact they are still living in the last century). The truth is that we as coaches are conservative with our main strategies summed up here: “never change a winning team”, “I have always done is this way”, “it is generally known that”, “science tells us”, “this is how the best athletes train” ….. in other words, we are uncritical copy-cats, we are lacking original ideas, most of our “innovations” are not coming from methodology of training, but pushed into our field coming from the fitness industry or from the clinic, not from healthy performance athletes! Ignorance isn’t always a bliss, but open-mindedness and “freshness of spirit” certainly is. Children often ask the right, unbiased questions.

  2. roland van den Tillaar says:

    Hereby some studies that back up Henk his story that long warm-ups are over rated. Short warm ups of only 8x50m or 8x60m compared with longer warm ups upon repeated sprint, sprint and 3 min runs.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27191697
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26808861
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254616300357

    • Hello Roland, thanks a lot for you scientific back-up, but is good that we did not wait until science proved us right, we would have to wait 30 years ;-). Keep up your good work in the North!

  3. Carlton Huff says:

    Hi Hank,
    Do you think these principles apply to Masters athletes like myself? Frankly, having a long history of muscle pulls and strains, the thought of a limited or non-existent warm-up scares the heck out of me.
    Thanks.

    • Hello Carlton, No, I don’t think so, since I am very careful with which kind of athlete I work, I work with very few only, so I cannot afford to lose one. But at the other hand, I don’t think warming-up even of an hour will have much of an injury preventive effect (the kind of injuries you are talking about). I would think of some other options first: 1. are you in the right event or are you trying to enter a Formula 1 race with a Volkswagen beetle, 2. do you have a genetic disposition towards weak collagenous tissue 3. how is your technique 4. do you have an appropriate level of relaxation when you compete, 5. do you have muscle imbalance(-s) at competition velocity of movement (this differs from muscle balances at slower movements!) 6. do you have muscle weaknesses 7. do you have muscles that are overly strong agonist/antagonists 8. do you have structural muscle shortnesses (that are not relieved by warming-up). And yes, please do warm-up but not too long

  4. Ivan says:

    Does the same apply for cool down for long distance runners (or
    endurance sports)?

    I often see recommendations to follow an intense interval session
    with another interval near aerobic threshold (2.0 mmol/L lactate)
    to speed up recovery.

    I also presume that for training purposes various recovery aids
    are counterproductive.

    • Hello Ivan,

      Thanks for you questions. To answer them: no, certainly not, because FT or white fibres have less caiullaries and red or ST fibers have more capillaries, it is important for long distance runners to warm-up and get all the different (aerobic)systems going: heart, lungs, circulation, oxygen transport and diffusion, mitochondrial activity, breakdown of fatty acids, etc. All these factors hardly play a role in explosive events since the anaerobic system is relatively simple with fewer components.

      The question here is: what do you want to accomplish with an intensive interval session: stimulating the anaerobic system (producing lactate): don’t cool down (aerobically), or stimulating the aerobic system at a high level: do cool down, since you were not looking for lactate.

      Various recovery measures are indeed counterproductive in the long-term because they diminish the necessary signals for adaptation to that particular stimulus. Training is seldom recovery, because one always uses metabolic resources, But sometimes if you are a very high level athlete, your active recovery session might be an amateur’s workout.

  5. Philipp says:

    Thanks. Interesting and thought provoking as always.

    I don’t know. I lack experience and don’t have any data, so just a gut feeling.

    You are probably right that explosive event athletes with good to great running mechanics don’t need to warm up or even shouldn’t warm up. Or at least not that half hour marathon of light aerobic work, ynamic stretching and running mechanics drills.

    But given your anectodal examples, there might be an psycological effect too. All these situations remind me of my best game in basketball. I directly rushed in minutes before tip off from a test at the university, with barely time to put my shoes on and walked directly on the court….and had my best game ever.

    I feel like…having no time to warm up implies (since it is a dogma that you should warm up) that you hadn’t time to prepare…and hence no time to get nervous. It is like a “nothing to loose” situation from a mental perspective. You probably feel less pressure, because hey, you couldn’t warm up properly:). Maybe your examples fall in the same category?

    • Hello Philip, thanks for your addition. Your lack of experience or data don’t matter that much, 1.most of these experiences are hard to repeat in laboratory conditions anyway, so we all suffer from lack of scientific data 2.your own experience points into the same direction. As you said, yes, nothing to lose. But here is the catch, many people had the experience you described and tried to repeat it again but it didn’t seem to work that well anymore. Some of these adverse conditions: being late for the start of the competition or match (not too late ;-), performing with unknown or somebody else’s tennis racket or running in somebody else’s shoes, becaue they forgot to bring thme or lost them, not having slept the night before, drunk a bit too much the night before. Probably the human mind-body mobilizes untapped resources by going into “survival mode”, preparing for “fight- or flight”, a mostly autonomic and unconscious process, secreting neurotransmitters and hormones, like adrenalin, cortisol, endorphines, allowing for supra-normal performance in case of survival(life or death!)or “unexpected” performances in case of sport and competition. Some athletes might have mostly naive capacity to tap into these resources more often or almost at will. These are what I called in an earlier post the “blossomers” under pressure, able to rise above and beyond themselves, when it counts, when the pressure is on. I have done quite some work in this and believe it is partly genetically determined and partially a matter of adequate coaching, in order to polish this special quality.

  6. Nimrod Meital says:

    Hi Henk,
    Thanks for the great posts!!! Would you use the no warm-up startegy to sports game like basketball and soccer?

    • Hello Nimrod, No, not really since in most of the teamsports the players have a surprising low percentage of FT fibers, probably also due to the duration of most sports, soccer = 90 minutes and lots of walking and slow jogging. That there is room for improvement is for sure, e.g. riding a stationary bike might be a great warming-up for cycling, but not for basketbal or soccer. Also the duration of the warming-up and the mental aspect of it deserves more attention.

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