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Preparing to Win: Warming Up & Stretching

Most athletes look at this heading and think that they will find an ideal workout that guarantees success. Besides the fact that there isn't one ideal workout (but rather your performance is the sum total of consistent training, sleeping, eating over several months), your ability to optimally perform stems from a proper warm up and cool down within your daily training and then again on race day. According to Dr. Sandler, There are three physiological benefits to an effective warm up. First, your warm up is an activity that allows the body to transition from inactivity to activity and to distribute the blood flow into the extremities. This distribution of blood warms up the muscles, tendons, cartilage and ligaments avoiding any cramping or tearing.
Second, is the activation of live protein cells called collagen and elastin. These proteins are laid down along the lines of force that occur when the connective tissue is stretched. This tissue needs to be supple and responsive to the forces exerted on it during physical activity. Stretching opens small blood vessels that nourish the connective tissue. Along with muscle movement, the increased body heat changes the molecular conformation of collagen and elastin, making them more springy and resilient. Properly warming up helps prevent connective tissue tearing caused by quick and forceful movements during exercise – especially early in the workout, practice or race.
Third, warming up switches the fuel source your body uses to fuel your workout (from mostly muscle glycogen to stored fatty acids). During the early portion (the specific duration of time is still debated due to the influence of an individual's fitness level and intensity levels) of your workout, your muscles draw predominately on glycogen (which is stored in your liver and muscles) for fuel. During the later duration of your workout, the muscles rely mostly on liver glycogen and fatty acids from stored fat cells. Research indicates that the longer the workout, more glucose is made in the liver from sources other than glycogen, such as lactate, glycerol and protein. Proteins are made of amino acids and there are 16 of them found in the liver that can be converted to glucose.
Dating all the way back to 1947, researchers found that a sufficient warm up of 15-30 minutes yielded a 3-6 percent performance improvement - just from warming up! In a research report in the Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, demonstrated that stretching for 20 minutes before a race yielded performance times that were 3 to 5 percent faster than without stretching; think about this – a


For an effective warm-up, you need to alternate between your sport specific activities with isolated muscle stretching over the course of 30 minutes. Here is an outline: 10-12 minutes of sport specific activity 10-12 minutes of muscle specific stretching 6-10 minutes of sport specific activity with 4-6 30 second accelerations


Sometimes when you think about starting your workout, your body and mind just don’t feel up to the challenge – please understand, this is normal and does not mean that you are lazy! To determine if your body is tired and needs a rest or if you should “give it a try”, please complete these two tasks.
First, evaluate your resting heart rate in the morning and compare it to your average resting heart rate over the last eight weeks. If your resting heart rate is up by more than five beats, do not work out (at all for the next 24 hours). Eat a dense meal and go back to bed if possible.
Second, try warming up by completing your sport specific activity for 10-15 minutes at a low intensity level (a heart rate monitor will quantify this for you without any emotions attached) and evaluate if your energy levels improve during the warm up. If, after your sport specific warm up you still feel lethargic and/or it is taking a lot of effort to complete the warm up, stop the workout. Keep in mind that it is always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to human performance due to the fact that we often neglect the external signs that our bodies provide us that we need a rest day. However, if after a sufficient warm up your body begins to “wake up” and you begin to feel fresh, move from your warm up into your stretching session and then into your workout focusing on skills & drills.


Stretching...if there is one subject that carries constant controversy, it would have to be the discussion of stretching and whether it beneficial to an athlete's performance program or not.

To those athletes who have endured a substantial injury and/or surgery will attest to the benefits of stretching and how important it is in reestablishing the optimum range of motion with the muscle(s) and surrounding joints. For other athletes, there is a mindset that stretching actually causes more strain on the muscle and even feels like the muscle shortens during stretching. So how can both correct?

To explain both sides of this controversy, let's begin by looking at the physiology of how muscles move and the associated reflexes associated with range of motion. There are two types of muscle contractions: isotonic and isometric. An isotonic muscle contraction is a voluntary contraction that causes movement. Under the umbrella of isotonic contractions, there are two types of contractions: concentric (where the muscle shortens as it works) and eccentric (where a muscle exerts force while being lengthened by an outside force). An isometric muscle contraction is a voluntary concentric contraction where there is no joint movement and the length of the muscle is unchanged. Please don't get frustrated with all of these concepts. Instead realize that before you can focus on stretching a muscle, you must first understand how they function so that you can effectively (and without injury) lengthen them for improved range of motion.

Your body is equipped with a stretch reflex know as the Myotatic Stretch Reflex which prevents a muscle from stretching too far and/or too fast, this mechanism protects the surrounding joint from becoming injured. This stretch reflex is mediated through the muscle spindle cells and is constantly evaluating both the speed and length that muscle is going through. When a muscle lengthens either too far or quickly, the spindle cell is stimulated and reflexively causes the muscle to contract, resisting the lengthening and preventing overstretching of the joint. An additional component to the stretch reflex is a concept known as the Inverse Stretch Reflex. Though this component is beyond the scope of this article, this reflex engages the Golgi tendon organ which monitors the amount of stress being placed on the tendon at the attachment. It is the combination of the Myotatic stretch reflex and the inverse stretch reflex that causes the muscle to relax, lengthen and ultimately increase your range of motion.


There are numerous debates on the proper way to stretch. When you begin to lengthen a specific muscle, as mentioned above, your body is equipped with the Myotatic Stretch Reflex as a defense mechanism to avoid you stretching the muscle too far and causing damage. This reflex is a combination of muscle tissue and nerves that defensively react to sudden, quick and bouncy movements. If you follow the principles of this mechanism, your body needs to be stretched in slow manner to avoid the activation of the stretch reflex. When the stretch reflex is invoked, the muscles shorten and pull on the tendons and ligaments of the muscle(s). With this in mind, you do not want to bounce when you stretch. The momentum created through the bouncing movement overrides the stretch reflex and tears (not lengthens) the muscle(s).


To enhance your range of motion in the shortest period of time, follow the warm up protocols provided above. Once the tissue is warmed up and you are sweating, slowly isolate (see video links below) the specific muscle you want to stretch and begin to take the muscle through it normal range of motion until you feel some tension develop within the belly of the muscle and/or the attachments. Your goals is to NOT activate the stretch reflex, simply stop deepening the stretch just shy of feeling the reflex activate (with practice you will “feel” this happen). Once you get to this point, focus on breathing deep through you belly to provide the much needed oxygen and hold until you feel the tension within the muscle relax. Once this occurs, slowly repeat the process until your optimum range motion is achieved.


Here are some videos to help you isolate and stretch muscles that tend to be frequent injury points with a racer:

Hips & Lower Back: click here Hamstrings: click here Inner Thigh: click here Quads: click here Calves: click here Ankle: click here

Coach Robb has been working with riders & racers for the last 25 years and is the founder of the Complete Racing Solutions Performance Program & Nutritionally Green Supplements based in Orlando Florida. He has contributed to publications such as Vurbmoto.com, Racer X, FLMX, FTR Magazine and is a regular contributor to RacerX online, RacerXVT, Vurbmoto and various racing websites. Robb can also be heard on the monthly radio show DMXS answering listener’s questions about nutrition & fitness. coachrobb.com is a premium resource center for motocross, supercross and GNCC riders of all abilities and ages. The website outlines the training solutions used with great success by Factory Kawasaki/Pro-Circuit’s Adam Cianciarulo, Broc Tickle, Darryn Durham; Factory, Factory Honda’s Ashley Fiolek, Thor’s Jordan Bailey, Factory JGR/Yamaha’s Jon Jon Ames, Factory KTM Off Road Charlie Mullins & Yamaha’s Roman Brown. Instructional videos with Coach Robb can be found on the Coach Robb’s Youtube Channel addressing rider’s questions about speed, endurance, strength nutrition, biomechanics, and stretching and soft tissue maintenance. Please visit coachrobb.com to subscribe to his newsletter and learn more about various resources for riders. You can follow him on Twitter: @MotoCoachRobb and on Facebook: Coach Robb.

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