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Warming Up For Martial Arts and Combat Sports

I get quite a few questions and comments on warm ups. Some pertain to session warm ups and some to competition warm ups. I’ll try to deal with my take on both of them in this mail.

Firstly, most people aren’t warming up effectively. I don’t need to quote the many studies there are, but suffice to say that enough data exists on enough ink to flood a thousand valleys and drown the tallest tree (you can nod aprovingly if you get that reference now)  to dismiss any notion of a warm up just being to get the blood pumping. Proper warm ups involve not just the raising of the body temperature, but also mobilisation, activation and mental preperation. To dismiss any of these is to fail to understand their importance to a combat athlete.

For session warm ups, we always use some variation on the following theme.  The warm up usually takes up between 10 and 15 minutes depending on intensity and what we are trying to achieve from the session. Technical sessions may have a marginally shorter and less intense warm up, harder sessions will have longer and more focussed warm ups.The warm up consists of:

  • Dynamic mobility
  • Dynamic stability
  • Hip mobility work
  • Neck and spine mobility
  • Class specific drills

Dynamic mobility/stability

I’ll deal with these under the same heading as they have a good deal of crossover in the warm up. What I’m looking for here is for the exercises to challenge the mobility and flexibility of the athletes to some degree. The easiest example here is the lunge. A deep lunge will stretch the hamstring and hip flexors, have a mild activation effect on the glutes and force the athlete to maintain balance. Add-ons for more advanced athletes include adding a pressing motion or holding the rear hand high at the bottom of the lunge. People have a tendency to motor through this, bouncing from one lunge to the next so it’s important to encourage a slow, deep lunge as they progress with a small pause at the bottom. This applies to most movements in this section of the warm up.

Hip mobility

Kickers and grapplers need more hip mobility than most, and while the first part of this warm up will cover the hips to some extent, more is almost always needed, and at the very worst (ie. someone with excellent hip mobility), does no harm. There’s lots of options here- Fire Hydrants, Donkey-Hitlers (yeah they have another name elsewhere but this one is mine) Supermans, pop-ups and so on. The important rule of thumb is to keep it dynamic.

Neck and spine mobility

Ah yes the neck and the spine. As soon as you mention mobilising the spine to the average person, they look at you as though you just said “Hi I’m Barry, I’d like to make you a paraplegic today”. The spine is just like anything else in the human body that contains moveable parts, it needs to be readied for the work ahead. Simplicity is key here. For the lower and mid back, cat/camels are a good and easy method. For the upper spine and neck, I mostly just use raises as they’re simple and easy to apply to class full of people. Lie on your back, keep your shoulders on the ground and bring your chin to your chest. Repeat that for each side and on your front.

It’s also important when dealing with the back and neck to keep in mind the session you’re doing. There’s no point in using any weighted work or the like to warm up the back as these may fatigue the muscles, and if you’re about to have someone swing out of your head, you don’t want to be fatigued. So keep the strength work for the gym and just warm up.

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