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RAMP Up Your Warm Ups

This article has one purpose : to enable you to improve your running by ensuring your body is in the best condition for your training.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to ensure your warm ups mean you can run at your best with minimal risk of injury, I would like to tell you a true story. About a year before Covid, the captain of the men’s vets team in Swindon Harriers decided at short notice to take the place of the 100m athlete who did not turn up at a vets meeting. Now he’s an 800m runner and so knows a bit about warming up for speed, but he’s not a 100m. Therefore, he did what he always did. When the 100m race started he got about 10m into it before he pulled his hamstring badly. He didn’t race again for about a year! So what’s the moral of this story? Simply, he didn’t adapt his warmup for the new activity he was going to do. Because he was going to sprint, he hurt himself quite badly. If he’d been filling in for the 1500m runner, he’d undoubtedly got away with it, because his body would have been able to cope with the loadings that such an event places on the body. Sadly for him, the 100m places much greater loads in the form of required forces and range of movement than his warm up had prepared his body for.

The above story seems a case of misunderstanding what the challenges of an event are, despite training with those who do it every week. But it was probably a case of mental inertia. He did what he always did to warm up and therefore felt his body was prepared. His failure is not so unusual. How many of us do the same warmup routine before every training session? Don’t get me wrong, having a routine is very good, if you’re going to do more or less the same thing each time. However, if you’re going to do a warmup for an interval session it needs to be different to that for a tempo run or your long run. As an aside, your warmup routine is probably the best one to use before your race. Don’t try something novel on race day!

So what makes you a good warmup routine? UK Athletics use the abbreviation RAMP for the elements of a warmup. It’s good to have such mnemonics to aid one do the right things. However, we need to be careful that it doesn’t impose a particular process that may not be the most appropriate for what you need.

The letters of RAMP stand for (with some comments):

R= raise, as in heart rate and temperature (seems reasonable and can be achieved by jogging)

A= activate (hmm, surely your muscles are active during the jogging part?)

M= mobilise (this must be about range of movement, so some dynamic stretches and drills..)

P=potentiate (what? Sounds like something from Calculus! I think I had better check this out). NB P is really PAP = “post-activation potentiation” - it doesn’t get any clearer though!

So I did check it out.

During Covid lockdown, Jamie French, an England Athletic’s Coach Education Tutor did a webinar on warm ups, so I watched it and 45 minutes later,  I’m an expert!

Well I’m not sure about that, but it was pretty comprehensive so, I have taken the learning for endurance running from it, to enable you do what is appropriate before each training run. So what are the elements of the warmup that you need to include to be effective for the running activities you are going to do?

So what does RAMP mean for Endurance runners as opposed to sprinters, high jumpers and shot-putters?  Jamie gave a bit of a history lesson into warm-ups and yes we’ve doing the R bit for quite a while in sport. “The activating and mobilising elements of RAMP are where a few things happen,” continued Jamie. ‘Activating’ the muscles means waking them up and priming them for the subsequent activities whereas ‘mobilising’ refers to the processes of preparing the joints for rapid and more forceful movement. Both of these are achieved at the same time and since 2003 it is thought to have been achieved by means of dynamic stretches.”  NB we coaches no longer say do static stretches for a warm up, not since 2004 anyway, for good reason, but static stretches do have a place if you are rehabilitating an injured body part, but that should be done under guidance from a medical professional.

So what’s the PAP all about? Research in the last ten years found that doing a maximum muscular contraction leads to an increase in amount of force that can be produced (for a short time) through the increased activation of the Central Nervous System. It was originally used with lifting weights or doing moderate number of plyos or sprints. It was particularly useful for explosive power events such as sprinting and jumping. There was a balance to be had been PAP activity and the fatigue such an activity can cause and a rest of 3 to 12 minutes is recommended. What worked best was found to be dependent on athlete (muscle fibre mix), the intensity and the duration of the activity. For endurance event athletes the benefits are not so great but can have a benefit over time as they allow a greater performance volume, i.e. higher intensity or volume. Generally for runners potentiation might look like hops or bounds, linking the warm up to the session so ‘potentiate activities’ are close to the session activity. For those who are interested in this, a good review article was done by Owen Walker (link :  ).

So what might a RAMP warm-up look like for a typical adult Club member….

Firstly, we need to remember that a warm up has a flow to it, so once we have raised out heart rate, we don’t stand around getting cold. Each stage of the warm-up builds upon the previous part. First up, you need to raise your body temperature and heart rate so you have blood flowing to the areas where it will be needed (R). You also need to move your limbs over and beyond the range you will need for the activity (A for muscles, M for joints). Best to build up the movement by doing smaller slower activities first and increasing the range of movement and speed gradually. NB this is a warm-up not a mobility session - don’t over-stretch! Remember it’s not just your legs, ensure you get your arms moving too (your legs will not move faster than your arms). I would then recommend two or three reps of strides just focusing on your technique. Having got your body moving over the range you will use, I would recommend a short effort at the speed, or a tad more than, you will do in the session (P). So if you’re planning on 80s 400m efforts, do 150- 200m at 75-78s pace. Do this a little in advance of the first effort to give yourself some recovery time. Lastly do some dynamic stretching, especially hips, while chatting to your fellow runners. Then you’re ready to go.

Ok, great in principle, but that assumes you know what the session plan is in advance and often you might not. So here’s where the story at the beginning comes in. If you don’t know what the session is but do what I describe assuming say a minute or 400m is the shortest activity, then you should be fine. It’s very unlikely that you will be asked to run short fast efforts without the coach including some preparation drills etc in their own defined warmup. Lastly, for those who like a schedule, how long should it take? Well, of course that depends on how long the efforts will be and how long it takes you to get everything mobile. I train with runners less than a third of my age and they seem able to get away with about a third of my warmup time! The key is to go on how you feel recognising the major muscles you will want to ensure are ready : glutes, quads and hamstrings in particular. If you get them warm dynamically then you’ll get the other muscles, particularly stabilising ones ready too. A warmup is for your muscles mainly, not your cardiovascular system.

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