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.
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)
“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)”.
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.
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.
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?