Principles of Warm-ups

by Gerald Lafon

It is generally accepted that prior to any type of athletic performance a warm-up period precede the actual training phase. As with much of what occurs in Judo training, the warm-up has all too often become a ritual performed without any clear purpose or goal. Traditionally, warm-ups have been viewed primarily as a method to prevent injuries or lessen their severity. While this article will not cover flexibility training or debate whether warm-ups prevent injuries- research by sports scientists can’t empirically validate this claim nor do they refute it- it will address issues pertaining to the purposes, goals and training parameters of warm-ups.

Purpose of Warm-ups

Leaving aside the issue of whether warm-ups are preventive medicine or not, one of the main purposes of this period is to physiologically prepare the body for the strenuous workout that follows by making it more efficient. In many ways the human body operates like a car. High and efficient performance can’t be expected from a car with a cold engine any more than from a cold body. Research in automotive fuel efficiency indicates that cars will operate at their most economical level after about fifteen minutes of warming up the engine. While there are no standard time frames for humans, efficient performance also is contingent upon adequate warm-up.

Note: Many authors state that an athlete is properly warmed up after he breaks into a light sweat. It should also be noted that flexibility training, a separate but closely related training unit, should not take place until after the core temperature of the muscles has been raised at least one degree. Contrary to popular belief, flexibility training doesn’t precede the warm-up period but rather follows it!

A second purpose of warm-ups piggy backs the need to physiologically prepare the body. The warm-up period presents the coach with an opportunity to teach participants basic psychomotor skills and kinesthetic awareness so necessary in the performance of Judo and yet undeniably ignored in many clubs. It’s a two for one deal that prepares the body for the strenuous workout while it develops and expands the inventory of athletic skills. Finally, a third purpose for warm-ups is to add variety and fun to the Judo class which under traditional leanings can be quite repetitive and boring to participants.

Basic Psychomotor Skills

Basic psychomotor skills are those primary skills upon which complex, athletic skills are based. Without the ability to perform basic psychomotor skills, learning complex Judo skills is slow and frustrating, if not impossible. Basic psychomotor skills consist of the following categories:

  • locomotor skills involving change of location: carrying, supporting, crawling, pushing, pulling, climbing, hopping, jumping, running, skipping etc.
  • non-locomotor skills involving the limbs in motion around an axis with no change of location: twisting, bending etc.
  • manipulative skills involving grasping or handling objects with hands or feet

Kinesthetic Awareness

Kinesthetic awareness refers to the ability of the body to relate to surrounding objects in space. It is this ability that is called into play when players turn out of throws and land on their fours or feet rather than concede any score. Traditionally, kinesthetic awareness is developed in spite of the coaching not because of it. Since most competitors would prefer to turn out of throws than concede a score, the warm-up period is an appropriate time to develop and enhance this ability.

Note: For an excellent, concise text on movement behavior, perceptual and physical abilities, and non discursive communication refer to A Taxonomy of the Psychomotor Domain by Anita J. Harrow.

Parameters of Warm-up Drills

As with any other segment of the workout, the warm-up must adhere to some fundamental learning principles and considerations. Many coaches fail to understand that the warm-up period is not meant for conditioning purposes nor is it supposed to resemble Marine Corps boot camp. It is a brief (no more than 15-20 minutes), non exhausting preparation that precedes the learning of new skills or the review of previously learned skills. If students are tired after warm-ups, learning new skills is hampered and performance thereafter will suffer. Coaches are reminded that feedback and reinforcement must also be given during this period to ensure that drills are performed properly and safely. In designing a warm-up period, coaches must consider the learning principles of transference or specificity, simplicity, individuality, satisfaction and creativity.

The principle of transference or specificity states that drills and practices should closely resemble and be relevant to the skills of the sport. Since Judo requires the development of so many basic psychomotor skills, coaches should have little difficulty in devising pertinent drills that develop meaningful athletic abilities in Judo participants. Coaches should use “whole body” drills rather than drills that affect one limb or one body part. This will more closely mimic the sport.

Example: The traditional warm-up exercise of rotating one’s hips, knees or ankles is nothing more than a waste of time. It doesn’t teach psychomotor skills and has little resemblance to anything done during Judo practice, most of which requires coordinated, whole body movements.

The principle of simplicity requires that drills, whether warm-up or technical, be taught in a natural sequence from easy to difficult, simple to complex or one dimensional to multi- dimensional.

Example: Two legged jumps, bounds or hops should precede one legged ones. Piggy back carries can become progressively more difficult by changing the direction of movement, the weight carried, the speed of the movement, the obstacles which the participants must go over or around, the position of the partner being carried etc.

The principle of individuality requires the coach to treat each participant as an independent individual with consideration given for his skill level, age, sex, physical ability, weight, height, level of fitness etc.

Example: No matter how hard they try, five year olders may not have the physical ability to do piggy back carries. Players with bad knees will not want to do duck walks. Elite players will probably not need to develop basic psychomotor skills and could spend their training time more efficiently by concentrating on Judo specific drills. On the other hand, children and novice adults will probably need to develop a larger foundation of basic athletic skills.

The principle of satisfaction dictates that participants must derive some form of satisfaction from the activity if they are to stay with it.

Example: Doing tens and hundreds of push ups, sit ups etc. is not going to turn on too many participants. Forcing students to repeat drills they are not ready for (individuality, simplicity) will also elicit a negative feeling.

The principle of creativity encourages both the coach and the participants to vary workouts and to do away with boring, repetitive training by seeking new ways to do the same basic skills.

Example: By using a few variables and some training aids usually available to most clubs, a coach can create tens of new drills to reinforce basic psychomotor skills and to make practices more enjoyable and less predictable and monotonous. Simple teaching aids which can be used are cones of various heights, balls (soccer, tennis), wooden boxes, Judo belts, climbing nets or ropes, planks or benches etc. Most drills can also be further altered if you consider the following variables; solo or partner(s) assisted, direction of movement- forward, backward, sideways, position of partner- in front, behind, under or on top, and contact points- two, three or four points as in a bear crawl done with one leg and two arms rather than two legs and two arms. Games, relays and obstacles courses will also bring excitement into the class.

In conclusion, the warm-up period is more significant than most coaches and participants assume. It sets the tone for what follows by either facilitating or hampering learning and performance. It can be a fun, exciting part of the workout or it can be the boring, exhausting, monotonous period of training for which most students might be late. While this article was not meant to be a presentation of specific drills, it is hoped that the concepts covered will help coaches and participants reconsider the purposes, goals and contents of warm ups and to make them a more meaningful part of the workout.

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