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Warming-up is an essential pre-requisite before any physical training. After the training, cooling-down is just as important.

Why warm-up?

When training in the martial arts, all parts of the body experience a diverse range of motions. Therefore, we must prepare the body by warming it up for action.

An appropriate warm-up pays special attention to body parts to be used during the training session. A martial arts training session may focus on a different part of the body than the last session, so the warm-up must be tailored to the upcoming session. For example, if the session is to focus on leg techniques, then the warm-up should emphasize leg exercises; however, this does not mean we should ignore the upper body.

It is generally accepted that before any type of athletic performance a warm-up period should precede the actual training phase. Traditionally, warm-ups have been viewed primarily as a method to prevent injuries or lessen their severity, but they also perform other functions.

Warm-ups physiologically prepare the body for the strenuous workout that follows. As with a car, the human body cannot be expected to perform adequately with a cold engine. Some believe an athlete is properly warmed-up after breaking into a light sweat, but to be properly warmed-up, the core temperature of the muscles should be raised at least one degree. This means that flexibility training should come after rather than before a warm-up.

Warm-ups also provide instructors an opportunity to teach students basic psychomotor skills and kinesthetic awareness and they add variety and fun to a class that can be quite repetitive and boring to students. Basic psychomotor skills are those primary skills upon which complex, athletic skills are based. Without the ability to perform basic psychomotor skills, learning complex taekwondo skills is slow and frustrating, if not impossible. Basic psychomotor skills consist of the following categories:
  • Locomotor skills. Those skills that involve a change in the location of the entire body, such as carrying, supporting, crawling, pushing, pulling, climbing, hopping, jumping, running, skipping, etc.
  • Non-locomotor skills. Those skills that involve the limbs in motion around an axis of the body with no change of the location of the body, such as twisting and bending.
  • Manipulative skills. Those skills that involve grasping or handling objects with the hands or feet.
Kinesthetic awareness refers to the ability of the body to relate to surrounding objects in space. This is important when performing jump-spin techniques. The warm-up is an appropriate time to develop and enhance this ability.

Warm-up safety

The warm-up period is not meant for conditioning purposes. It is a brief (no more than 15 to 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, the learning of new skills is hampered, and their performance thereafter will suffer. Feedback and reinforcement should be given during the warm-ups to ensure that drills are performed properly and safely. In designing a warm-up session, instructors should consider the learning principles of transference or specificity, simplicity, individuality, satisfaction, and creativity:
  • Transference or specificity. This principle states that drills and practices should closely resemble and be relevant to the skills of the sport. Instructors should use "whole body" drills rather than drills that affect one limb or one body part. For example, jumping jacks exercise the whole body.
  • Simplicity. This principle 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. For example, jogging in place should precede doing jumping jacks. 
  • Individuality. This principle requires the instructor 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. For example, students with bad knees should not do duck walks.
  • Satisfaction. This principle dictates that participants must derive some form of satisfaction from the activity if they are to stay with it. For example, having students to perform drills they are not ready for will elicit a negative feeling.
  • Creativity. This principle encourages both the instructor and students to vary workouts and to do away with boring, repetitive training by seeking new ways to do the same basic skills. For example, practice a quick draw where one student holds a target pad in front and another student tries to slap it before the student can move the target.

Warm-up stages

A proper warm-up consists of three stages:
  • Stage one. The first stage is an aerobic activity. Its purpose is to increase body temperature and to increase gradually the workload of the heart and lungs.
  • Anaerobic activity consists of light exercise over a long period, so muscles can operate with a sufficient oxygen supply, such as when jogging. Anaerobic activity consists of more intense exercise over a shorter period where the muscles must operate without a sufficient supply of oxygen, such as when sprinting. 
  • Aerobic activity is more suited to this stage of the warm-up since its goal is to increase the pulse rate gradually. However, the level of activity should not be so light that the body temperature is not sufficiently increased. Sweat is a good form of measurement; mild sweating is desirable, while heavy or no sweat is not.
  • To work up a sweat, try the prostration exercise. Stand straight, hands above your head, and then transition to lying on your stomach, hands extended in front of your head. Then transition to standing up straight again with hands above your head—that is one. Do as many as you can.
  • Stage two. The next stage is light stretching. Stretching lessens the possibility of injury, maximizes range of motion, and prepares muscles for sudden, extreme movements.
  • Stage three. The last stage involves basic exercises. Once the muscles have warmed and stretched, perform basic techniques from your martial art at a light pace. Start lightly and gradually increase the power and intensity of the techniques until they reach the desired level.

Damaging warm-ups

Many traditional warm-up exercises are damaging to the body and counterproductive to training. Scientific studies of body mechanics have shown that many common warm-up exercises should be replaced with modified versions to avoid potential risks. The following are a few of the more common warm-up exercises that should be avoided as well as suggested modifications.
  • Bouncing. Bouncing type stretching should be avoided. Bouncing or jerking motions cause the muscles to contract instead of stretch. This protective reflex of the muscles results in the possibility of torn muscle fiber. All stretching should be done slowly and held for a minimum of 10 seconds.
  • Neck rotations. Neck rotations that involve rotating the head while it is tilted back, such as in full neck rotations, promote excessive wear of the cervical vertebrae as well as excessive stress on the discs. This can cause pinched nerves or arteries and may result in chronic neck problems. They should be replaced with half neck rotations with the chin kept close to the chest. Lateral neck stretches may be done with the chin up and the head moved side to side bringing the ears close to the shoulders. Keep the shoulders down and relaxed to obtain the maximum stretch.
  • Straight leg sit-ups. Straight leg sit-ups and leg raises are meant to strengthen the abdominal muscles. Unfortunately, they mainly work the hip flexors with only limited benefit to the abdominals. They also put excessive strain on the lower back. Bent knee curls are more effective. Lift the shoulders and upper back off the floor by tightening the abdominals. Limit the range of motion to about 30 degrees. If leg raises are done, place the hands under the buttocks and concentrate on keeping the lower back (lumbar area) pressed into the floor. Do not let it arch. Raise the legs only about 30 degrees to concentrate the work on the abdominals.
  • Quadriceps stretches. Quadriceps stretches that cause the knee joint to be fully flexed while in a weight-bearing position may result in damage to the knee's structural support. Sprained ligaments and torn cartilage are common injuries that result from knee stress caused by deep squats, deep lunges, and other similar stretches. The quads should be stretched by either not fully flexing the knee joint, such as doing lunges with the front leg bent less than 90 degrees, or by removing the weight from the knee joint. This may be done with supine quad stretches. Lying on the stomach, reach back with the right hand and grab the right ankle. The leg is then pulled forward and up, stretching the quads.
  • Hurdle stretches. Hurdle stretches that stretch the hamstring may put excess pressure on the side of the knee joint of the rear leg resulting in injury to the knee ligaments. They can also strain the hip joint and lower back, especially in men. A modified hurdle stretch, with the bent leg in front, so that the bottom of the foot is beside the knee of the straight leg, will protect the lower back and hip joint by immobilizing the pelvis when the hip is flexed. The back should be kept straight while performing the stretch. Knee joint pressure may still be a problem with this stretch if chronic knee trouble is present. As an alternative, supine hamstring stretches can be used. Lying on the back, bend one knee and stretch the other hamstring by grabbing the ankle and pulling the straight leg to the chest. 

Navy approved warm-up exercises

 Follow this link to a pdf of warm-up exercises approved for use by the United States Navy:  Navy warm-up exercises

Delayed muscle soreness

Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) may occur after a workout, especially when beginning a new exercise program or changing activities. It is a normal response that the body goes through while adapting to new exercises. The result will be better stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build. The worst will probably occur within the first 2 days after the exercise routine.+

DOMS is caused by the microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing (and soreness) depends on how hard and how long you exercise and what type of exercise you do. Activities that require muscles to forcefully contract while they are lengthening seem to cause the most soreness.

DOMS is very annoying but it is not a necessary part of your exercise program. There are steps you can take to prevent DOMS. Here are but a few:
  • Warm-up before your exercise and cool down afterward
  • Stretch before your exercise program
  • Start with easy to moderate activity and build up the intensity over time.
  • Avoid making sudden major changes in the type of exercise you do
Avoid making sudden major changes in the amount of time that you exercise, if you already suffer from DOMS. Here are some steps you can take to minimize the pain and increase your healing process:
  • Wait. Soreness will go away in 3 to 7 days with no special treatment.
  • Avoid any vigorous activity that increases pain.
  • Do some easy low-impact aerobic exercise to increase blood flow to the affected muscles, which may help diminish soreness.
  • Use the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) principle.
  • Use gentle stretching in the affected area.
  • Gently massage the affected muscles.
  • Try using a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (aspirin or ibuprofen) to reduce the soreness temporarily, though they will not speed healing.
  • Vitamin C may decrease soreness.
  • Allow the soreness to subside thoroughly before performing any vigorous exercise.
  • Always warm-up and stretch before a workout.
  • If pain persists longer than 7 days or increases despite these measures, consult your physician. 

Improve performance

A British study found that soccer players who warmed up with exercises that mimicked moves used in the game, such as knee raises and walking lunges, sprinted faster and jumped higher than they did when using static stretching exercises. Active dynamic stretches rev up nervous system responses, which results in muscle contractions that are more coordinated and more forceful, which results in better performance.

Importance of a cool-down

Just as warming-up is important at the beginning of a training session, warming-down is important after training. The cool-down gradually lowers body temperature and pulse rate and helps to flush lactic acid from the muscles. Lactic acid is produced by anaerobic activity and causes the muscles to feel sore. For a warm-down, perform some light, gradually decreasing aerobic activity and some stretching.


  • Lafon, G. Principles of Warm-ups.
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