I am convinced that a proper warm up is an essential part of any martial art session: I see around many clubs that are quite informal about this part of training and they resolve the issue by telling students to “warm up”. People therefore chat away for 10-20 minutes while performing mild exercises that don’t really challenge any muscle and then they start training.
In the best cases these clubs are training people that are not fully ready for the next part of the class: some times this causes injuries and permanent damages and it is a good reason for putting many novices off martial arts training.
The purpose of warming up is to put body and mind in the best state to handle the rest of the training. The exercises done during warming up should improve both power as the source of speed and flexibility to reduce resistance resulting in agility and ease of movement.
As different martial arts express themselves in completely different ways it might be tricky to state what a proper warm up should be like. Let’s then try to define what activities might be suggested according to the group of muscles used:
- Punching, particularly if at full contact against bags, pads and focusing mitts, requires proper conditioning of knuckles, wrists, elbows, shoulders and pectorals: press-ups or push-ups of various kind, with hands positioned at various angles can be a good way of warming up and conditioning that area.
- In martial arts that use medium and high kicks people should pay serious attention to their legs’ flexibility performing a variety of stretching exercises than involve flexibility of the rear part of the legs, the internal adductors and the groin area.
- Throwing techniques require good core training that is also of great support to punches and kicks. Recent physiology studies have demonstrated that the core area (torso, abdomen and part of the back) is responsible for delivering power in most movements. The power that most traditional martial arts define as coming from the hips is in reality delivered by the core.
- The abdominal area is a very important part of the body. Abdominal muscles are the only protection against strikes for delicate organs like stomach and liver: there are no bones here like in the chest so a number of different abdominal exercises like sit-ups of various kinds should be performed on a regular basis.
- The whole spine is subject to a number of snapping and twisting movements following punches, kicks and throws: warm up and strengthening the back ensures no long term back injuries.
An average warm up should last between 15 to 45 minutes, taking into account the following criteria:
- age of the students: younger pupils need shorter warm up than people in their forties or above;
- the martial art practiced: Tai Chi can be a warm up in itself while Judo or Thai Boxing need very specific exercises;
- students’ proficiency: beginners might have a progressive approach to warm up while professionals need a long and well structured one.
In my experience warming up is an integral part of martial arts practice and should occupy a significant portion of each class rather than being an optional activity. Benefits are out of question and ensure safe and healthy practice to people that want to see martial arts training as part of their life for the long term.