Priming the System: The Case for (relative) High Intensity Warmups

by Evan Peikon

Before we get started I want to give that caveat that this article is directed more so towards athletes, instead of wannabe athletes or those training for health/ longevity. 

Now that thats settled I’m going to start off with a hypothetical scenario.
We take an athlete training for the sport of fitness and have him perform the same workout on two different days. 

The Workout is as Follows:
5 Sets @97% Effort
20 Second Airdyne (for cals)
Rest 3:30
*The goal of this workout is to tap the Anaerobic Alactic system (ie- power output should be very high in terms of wattage).

Now for Day 1:
We have the athlete warmup with the following…
5-10 Minute Airdyne @50% effort followed by some mobility work. (i.e.-standard box warmup).
The athlete then performs the workout and gets the following results….
14 cals, 14 cals, 15 cals, 18 cals, 18 cals.

Now Day 2:
We have the athlete warmup with the following…
5 Minute Airdyne @50% Effort
Dynamic Range of Motion work
10 second Airdyne @55-65-75-85-90% effort; full rest b/w sets
20 second Airdyne @70-80-90% effort; full rest b/w sets

Then the athlete performs the workout and gets the following results…
18 cals, 18 cals, 17 cals, 18 cals, 17 cals

So what caused this discrepancy in performance results?
I would argue that in the first case the athlete didn’t tap the Alactic system until their fourth set, while in the second case the athlete primed their system such that they were operating in the Alactic system from the first set.

Why is This Important?
The the given scenario the athlete was prescribed 5 sets of 20 second Alactic intervals, which totals to 100 seconds. When they didn’t warmup they only accumulated 40 seconds in the correct energy system, not only making their training less effective (in regards to the desired outcome) but also creating more variables due to the fact that they will not be progressing from week to week as planned.
When training for health/ longevity this isn’t the end of the world, but for a competitor every second count. And in a sport where “men will die for points”, it would be wise to make sure that the write dose is received (hopefully it is Rx’ed properly too, but thats already been covered in Energy Systems: N=1… Period).

Research Backing My Claims
Improvement of 800-m running performance with prior high-intensity exercise.
Ingham SAFudge BWPringle JSJones AM.
English Institute of Sport, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK.
Prior high-intensity exercise increases the oxidative energy contribution to subsequent exercise and may enhance exercise tolerance. The potential impact of a high-intensity warm-up on competitive performance, however, has not been investigated.
To test the hypothesis that a high-intensity warm-up would speed VO2 kinetics and enhance 800-m running performance in well-trained athletes.
Eleven highly trained middle-distance runners completed two 800-m time trials on separate days on an indoor track, preceded by 2 different warm-up procedures. The 800-m time trials were preceded by a 10-min self-paced jog and standardized mobility drills, followed by either 6 × 50-m strides (control [CON]) or 2 × 50-m strides and a continuous high-intensity 200-m run (HWU) at race pace. Blood [La] was measured before the time trials, and VO2 was measured breath by breath throughout exercise.
800-m time-trial performance was significantly faster after HWU (124.5 ± 8.3 vs CON, 125.7 ± 8.7 s, P < .05). Blood [La] was greater after HWU (3.6 ± 1.9 vs CON, 1.7 ± 0.8 mM; P < .01). The mean response time for VO2 was not different between conditions (HWU, 27 ± 6 vs CON, 28 ± 7 s), but total O2 consumed (HWU, 119 ± 18 vs CON, 109 ± 28 ml/kg, P = .05) and peak VO2 attained (HWU, 4.21 ± 0.85 vs CON, 3.91 ± 0.63 L/min; P = .08) tended to be greater after HWU.
These data indicate that a sustained high-intensity warm-up enhances 800-m time-trial performance in trained athletes

Before you go out and drop the hammer before your next training session, well go over some application and how to implement/ tailor this approach to your training (based on the objective of the session & energy system being trained).

*The warmup is dependent on the athlete, and the workout so the following examples may or may not be applicable to a given training session you are going to perform. Thusly, they are meant to get you thinking & experimenting (i.e.- use the guidelines and customize based on your individual physiology).

Alactic Training:
Keep in mind that the shorter time domain energy systems require the longer warmups due to their neurological demands (you need the most priming for the high(er) power output).

6 Sets @97% effort
100m Sprint
Rest 2:30 (rest interval is dependent on how long it takes the athlete to complete 100m).

400m Run
Dynamic Range of Motion
2-3 x(10 Lunge, 10 Pushup, 10 Back KBS)
50m Strider @55-65-75-85-90% effort; full rest b/w sets
100m Strider @70-80-90-90% effort; full rest b/w sets

Lactic Training
Similar to Alactic training, lactic also requires a high (relative) power component. To keep things in simple terms, you also want to accumulate lactate in the blood prior to starting the workout so you can utilize it as fuel via Gluconeogenesis (meaning you turn non-carbohydrate substances into glucose).

4 Sets @90% effort
30 second Power Clean (for reps)
30 second Burpee (for reps)
60 second Airdyne (for cals)
Rest 6 Minutes b/w sets

5-7 Minute Airdyne @Z1
Dynamic Range of Motion
__ Sets (until athlete feels ready/ fired up… I know very unscientific, but it works)
5-7 Power Clean (starting light and increasing to workout weight)
5-7 Burpee
20-30 Airdyne @hard effort
Rest as needed

Aerobic Training
Similar to the lactic warmup, one of the main purposes of the aerobic warmup is to start using the correct fuel source (in this case aerobic metabolism which uses oxygen). If you don’t properly warmup and switch over to aerobic metabolism you may start using lactate as a fuel source early into the workout and get a completely different response. You may also cause muscular fatigue quicker since oxygen wont be supplied properly.

10 Minute Airdyne for Max Cals (aerobic tester)

7-10 Minute Airdyne @50% effort
30 sec Jump Rope
30 sec KBS
30 sec bounding
30 sec pushup
x2-3 sets
Airdyne; 20-30 sec x2; 40-60 sec x2; 80-100 sec x1-2; at increasing pace w/ full recoveries

Other Considerations:
Aerobic & Anaerobic enzymes activation also plays a part in the warmup; but are beyond the scope of this article.


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