When it comes to warm ups one size fits none, or at least that is a take home message from a study on warming up and how it affects our performance and a great analysis by Sweat Science’s Alex Hutchingson. A study on “What type of warm-up optimizes swim performance?” from the University of Alabama from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed the effects of three different warm up types to gauge their effect on performance. The three chosen styles were: No warm-up, A short warm-up consisting of 50 yards of 40% of max effort followed by 50 yards at 90% of max effort and the swimmer’s individual usual warm-up, which averaged a total of about 1,300 meters for the group.
The result of this experiment, even though it was done on swimmers, has some interesting implications for us as runners. What happened was that the mean 50-yd time was significantly faster following the athlete’s individual warm up in comparison to a short mandated warm up. This conclusion is very insightful in what it takes for us as individuals to perform to our absolute best. The cookie cutter mold of one size fits all often prescribed in most running groups tends to break this rule that individual runners respond differently to the same effort. That means that if everyone were to run say a standard three mile warm before races its probable that some would feel underprepared, some overstrained and for those lucky enough to fit the mold just right. So if everyone needs an individualized warm up why do we so often group together based on averages? Maybe it’s the result of societal social constructs but that’s a question for another day. The point here is that for running, much like swimming, it is important in order to compete optimally to determine how each individual responds to different warm-ups in order to find the stimulus most beneficial to that athlete.
The averages make sense; they are the culmination of everyone’s individual needs, but in a case such as preparation for performance, using averages is as useful as rolling a die, and when it comes to trying to compete at our best that seems like a rather silly way to treat the end result of all our hard work. The take home message is this, numbers and routines such as those found in averages, our teammates and what we see/hear elites do is only relevant to the point where we can understand that there are an infinite amount of possible routines available as tools for warming up our bodies for competition. We can research what works and what doesn’t but in the end it make little difference if we warm up like “elites” if it simply does not fit our body. Everyone is an individual and understanding that plus the available tools out there to experiment with is what truly matters. Don’t sell yourself short! You are unique and you are capable! We all are! So if you feel that you haven’t found your routine yet, experiment with the options available out there, try something new, see what works, what doesn’t and take each experiment not as a mistake but as a building block to a lesson of self-understanding. Each experiment is simply an arrow, good or bad, the experience of learning what YOU need to do will eventually, with enough time and experimentation, point you in the right direction, a direction that is your own.