[HEMA] The Traditional Martial Arts Warm Up

You know the Traditional Marital Arts Warm Up (TMAWU)? The one that starts with some running around or other cardio, it will then probably include some static stretching and maybe some dynamic stretching and then finishes with some form of conditioning. It usually takes about 20-30 minutes and it’s the way most of us will have warmed up at the beginning of most of the sporting or martial activities we’ve done. We all got taught at school that this is the correct way to warm up to keep us “safe” and to stop us from injuring ourselves from tearing something. Yea that warm up, I really hate it.

Before I continue just a quick disclaimer: This is just an explanation of my feelings on the subject. It is not a criticism of anyone or anything.
I remember back in 2008 when I had just signed for the Reading Renegades and I got into a disagreement with our team physio about the warm up. He was telling us that we shouldn’t be doing static stretching as part of our warm up. I argued that I needed to stretch out my ham strings before doing the dynamic stretching otherwise I’d pull something. I was secure in the knowledge that years of training in a traditional way was correct, otherwise we would not all still be doing right? It was how we did it in the Premiership and we were successful so that must mean we were doing the right thing? But our physio was far better educated on the subject than me and this started me on a journey to better understand warm ups and the need for them.

I read what research I could get my hands on, and spoke to as many experts on the subject as possible. I played around with different ideas, some worked and some really didn’t but I’m firstly confident that when given freedom to do thing my way I can script a warm up that appropriately prepares athletes of all levels. It’s harder than just using the standard warm up, as the standard warm up requires no preparation and everyone knows how to do it. I still use it myself at times as it can give me a few minutes to prep what I’m going to do next, I try not to though.

There have been loads of studies done on stretching and warming up so I’m not going to rehash things already written by people far better than me at it. Some of the things I use to shape how I warm up are that you need your muscles and connective tissues to be warm before working at near maximal effort, but there is not as great a need when working at sub maximal effort. That it only takes a short while for muscles to return to a cooler temperature and may benefits gained from a “warm up” are quickly lost. Static stretching significantly reduces power output from muscles, making you slower and weaker after you’ve stretched. Tired people have a much harder time at learning new things, or performing things correctly than fresh people. Stressing smaller muscle groups during before training increases the possibility of injuring of damaging those small muscles when you start to use them with maximal effort.

The way I now like to structure a warm up is to not have one, if I only have two hours a week to coach someone the last thing I want to do is sacrifice the 15-25% of that time just to get warm, when we’re going to be doing that anyway. This is where you have to be a better coach/instructor and have your whole session planned properly, this takes a lpt of effort and its beneficial to get help frlm someone with experience. It should start at a slow pace, walking speed working on footwork, body position and movement. This should include all of the movements you will be doing in your activity. If I was going to run a HEMA session I’d have everyone start in their kit and start with scripted footwork, there has never been anyone that doesn’t need more work on their footwork. The specifics will depend of the style you’re learning and what’s important to you. After that I’d probably switch to flow drill (maybe voiding drill if you don’t have the kit for beginners or they don’t yet have control) and stress the need to go slowly, people will naturally speed up building the warmth in their muscles. During this whole process coach people, but don’t ever stop the whole activity. Keep the work rate high, even though the pace is slow and controlled.

Two to Three minutes of each activity will get people warm and ready to move on to the next stage of the session. What happens next really depends on how you want to structure your session. If you have learning section, where you want to talk about a new thing and coach a new thing then go straight into it. There will be some standing around and listening so any more work done to warm up will be negated. If you want to move into a drill section here, then just start at a slightly slower pace for the first drill and then increase to full speed over the next few minutes. Either way you are into full learning only about eight minutes into your session with everyone in kit, you’ve saved time at the beginning, you’ve used all your warm up time working on fundamental skills and you won’t lose time later in the session when everyone has to get their sparring kit on.

The only other thing to consider is that people need to be fully warm before doing a maximal effort activity such as sparring or full speed lunging. This is not a problem if you are building the intensity of your activities through the session, just be aware that a period of reflection followed by a bit of chatting before people start sparring will cause people to start too cool down. It’s ok just remind them to start at a lower intensity and then build up just so they can work more heat into their muscles.

So the reasons I really don’t like TMAWU are many, it takes too long, it’s lost training time, it over stresses small muscle groups but mostly I don’t like them as I really hate jogging. I’m a fat man with bad knees, if ever there was an activity that was designed to cause me the most amount of pain it was jogging. Even back when I used to be a decent athlete I really hated jogging.




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