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What is the RAMP warm-up?

RAMP warm-up

The RAMP warm-up was developed by Ian Jeffreys, it has proven to be the most effective warm-up for athletes and is used by many elite coaches around the world.

The acronym ‘RAMP’ stands for Raise, Activate, Mobilize, Potentiate. But what exactly is the RAMP warm-up? This article was taken from our new book The Warm-Up.

The Science Behind The RAMP Warm-UP

While generally accepted as an integral part of every training session, the traditional processes of warming up have been the subject of surprisingly few quality research studies. Consequently, even when viewed solely as short term preparation, many generally accepted practices are based more on supposition than real evidence. This has led to increasing numbers of coaches to question traditional beliefs and investigate various methodologies that are able to optimise warm-up procedures.

Today, warm-up procedures are evolving and new scientific research and practical evidence are being integrated into means and methods that have the capacity to significantly enhance the athlete’s warm-up.

Jeffreys states that it is time to reevaluate and modify our warm-ups and to use a completely new thought process. That is what he has done with his recent research which has now been published in his new book The Warm-Up. He looks beyond a warm-up as simply a preparation for performance, to a transformational position where the warm-up is an integrated part of every training session, systematically planned to optimise athletic performance, both acutely and as part of a long-term development process.

Time Is Key

The video below, taken from our Instagram page shows Ian Jeffreys talking about how time is a barrier for coaches and athletes. Therefore nailing the warm-up in the short amount of time they have with an athlete is key.

The RAMP System

Traditional systems of constructing warm-ups are far from optimal and need to evolve. What is important in this evolution is that a systematic approach is adopted where a methodical and organized structure is employed via which activities can be organised to achieve specific objectives. Crucially, the warm-up needs to be considered in relation to all of its potential benefits, rather than simply as a means of short-term preparation for performance.

Rather than focusing on methods, which is often the approach in physical training, the systematic approach develops a structure around which various activities can be introduced, and which can deliver specific results across a wide range of situations. Importantly, the focus on structure rather than methods allows multiple activities to be used within the overarching structure, allowing for more individualised approaches to be deployed. The RAMP warm-up protocol is such a system and has evolved over many years of coaching athletes across a broad range of abilities. Indeed, one of its strengths is that its systematic approach makes it sufficiently flexible to enable the development of optimal warm-ups for athletes at the highest levels as well as complete beginners, and across numerous sports and activities. Similarly, the systematic approach ensures that each element of the warm-up contributes positively to the next, allowing the whole to be far greater than the component parts.

A Systematic Approach

The RAMP warm-up system is a new way of thinking and the science of this is justified throughout The Warm-Up. Consideration must be given to the short-term aim of the warm-up, the medium-term aim of the warm-up and the long-term aim of the athlete’s overall athletic development. In this way, all of an athlete’s training time is productively spent on activities that positively affect their development across all of these timescales.

The key to the success of the RAMP warm-up is this systematic structure, which optimises the contribution of each element to the warm-up and where each element of the warm-up contributes positively to the next. This focus on systems rather than methods provides coaches and athletes with a thought process to construct effective warm-ups while also providing the flexibility to enable them to use multiple means and methods to achieve their performance goals.

While the system has been used successfully across a wide range of sports and across a wide range of performance levels, the sheer variety of performance permutations makes it impossible to construct a warm-up that is perfect for all scenarios. Again, the systematic approach is crucial, because the structure ensures that elements can be adapted to fit into specific sporting situations while maintaining the organisational integrity of the system. Coaches and athletes are encouraged to experiment within this structure and to develop warm-ups that work optimally within their training and competition restraints.

The RAMP warm-up protocol itself considers the physiological, psychological and skill basis of the warm-up process. However, unlike traditional warm-ups, it also considers the medium- and longer-term development of the athlete. This makes it dramatically different to traditional methods and provides a powerful tool for the athlete and coach, allowing for more sophisticated planning, maximising performance across a range of timescales.

Athleticism

In planning warm-ups to deliver long-term benefits, it is important to consider the key factors that affect sport performance. Sport performance is dependent on a balance between four types of capacity: technical, tactical, physical, and psychological. The balance between these will be dependent on the sport itself and also on the athlete’s preferred style within the sport. The main focus is typically on the technical and physical realms, because the other two realms require focused efforts best carried out in other parts of the session.

Technical performance is dependent on the development of a number of basic skill capacities. For example, in football (soccer) technical performance requires mastery of skills such as first-touch control, dribbling, passing, and shooting. Given that the amount of deliberate practice appears to be the most important factor in the development of skill, integrating skill learning opportunities into a warm-up is a time-efficient method of increasing the quantity of skill practice.

In terms of physical performance, the development of athleticism is a key aim. Athleticism is the ability to perform sport-related tasks with a high degree of efficiency, control and effectiveness. Athleticism is underpinned by effective movement, which is based on an ability to assume and control key positions and to move fluidly and effectively between positions in the performance of sport-related tasks. Relating this to warm-up, the focus should be on the development of capacity in key movement patterns and locomotor pattern.

So What Is The RAMP Warm-Up?

The term RAMP is based upon three distinct phases of the warm-up, each with a distinct focus:

  1. R: Raise
  2. AM: Activate and Mobilise
  3. P: Potentiate

Each of these phases plays a critical role in the delivery of an effective warm-up each with its own aims in relation to the physiological and psychological preparation of the athlete. Additionally, the systematic structure ensures that all activities are sequenced in a manner that has each phase progressively building on the previous phase. What is important is that the coach and athlete understand the fundamental aims of each phase and how they sequentially contribute to the athlete’s performance in the short term and how the activities incorporated within each contribute to the athlete’s long-term development.

The principles underpinning the whole RAMP warm-up system revolve around movement quality and skill development. Both of these factors are fundamental to effective performance in the majority of sports and where these capacities can be enhanced, an athlete’s potential is similarly enhanced.

An important feature of both of these capacities is that one of the key elements in their optimisation is the quantity of deliberate quality practice. In general, the more deliberate practice an athlete undertakes, the greater the potential for enhancement of movement quality and skill development. In this way, throughout a RAMP warm-up, all opportunities to enhance the quality of movement capacity and skill capacity are explored. Ironically, through the effective use of targeted RAMP warm-ups, the quantity of deliberate practice to enhance movement quality and skill quality is significantly increased, but without any increase in overall training load. In this way, RAMP warm-ups become exceptionally time efficient, as well as providing optimal environments for skill and movement development.

The Raise Phase

The first part of a warm-up needs to focus on raising key physiological parameters, namely blood flow, muscle temperature, core temperature, muscle elasticity and the quality of neural activation and conduction. This is achieved through the targeted use of low-intensity movements.

The key is that, rather than being general in nature, within the RAMP system these activities are carefully targeted and specific to the training goal of athletic development. To achieve this, two types of Raise protocols are generally used, namely movement development protocols and skill development protocols.

Movement Protocols

The type of movement protocol used will largely depend upon the type of activity being undertaken. In the main, movement-based Raise phase, protocols will focus on key locomotor patterns. The Gamespeed System, through its target classifications, outlines three major categories of movements based on their functions (table below): initiation movements, actualization movements, and transition movements.

These categories are based on the function of the movement within the game. Initiation movements involve starting and changing the direction of movement. Actualisation movements involve an athlete trying to maximise movement speed. Transition movements involve an athlete waiting to read and react to the evolving game and either initiate acceleration or perform a sport skill. Taken together, these movements essentially provide a movement vocabulary for practically all locomotor-based sports.

The level of cognitive challenge in the movements can be varied, depending on the athlete’s current levels of capability, to produce even greater levels of movement competency.

Game-Speed Target Functions and Movements

FunctionObjectiveMovement
Initiation Starting to the frontFirst step accelerate
Starting to the sidehip turn
Starting to the backDrop step
Changing direction laterally Cut
Changing direction (forward and back)Plant
Transition Static position Athletic position
Moving in a limited space Jockeying
Moving laterally Side shuffle
Moving to the rear Backpedal, backtrack
Moving diagonally Cross-step run
Moving forward to control Deceleration pattern
Actualisation Acceleration and Maximum speedLinear pattern, curved pattern

The RAMP system thought process can be extended to gym-based sessions. In gym-based sessions a great deal of time is often spent on aerobic-type activities as a warm-up (often on gym-based machines) with little thought given to their productivity away from simply providing a general increase in body temperature. Where space permits, locomotor patterns can be introduced as a Raise phase activity and these can be combined with key movement patterns from the Activation and Mobilization phase, such as squats and lunges.

Skill-Based Protocols

Skill-based Raise patterns involve the use of key skills related to the sport to raise the key physiological parameters. These need to be selected to ensure that they provide an appropriately low intensity of activity to start with, but which can be progressively increased as the Raise phase progresses. Similarly, they need to be selected to ensure that they replicate the skills required within the sport itself. The skills chosen should link in with a major aim of the session.

Although typically sport-specific, skill-based warm-ups can also be sport-generic (i.e., skills that relate to multiple sports). In contexts where multiple sports are practiced, or in general areas such as physical education classes, the Raise phase can be structured to include more general skills. Here catching-, hitting-, kicking-, and throwing-based activities can be included which provide for multiple skill practice.

The Activation and Mobilization Phase

Although at first glance this can be likened to the stretching phase of the traditional warm-up, it is important to stress that its aims are significantly different.

Many research papers have been published on the acute effects of static stretching on performance. Largely, the results are equivocal, with some studies showing a reduction in subsequent performance on strength-power speed and agility scores, but with others showing no reduction, unless the stretch is held for over 30 seconds. However, whether there is a decrease in performance or not, once this phase is thought of as an Activation and Mobilization phase these arguments become largely irrelevant. Studies show that there is very little, if any, link between stretching and injury prevention.

Given that the Raise phase of the warm-up was concerned with raising key parameters of physiological performance such as body temperature and muscle temperature, what is critical is that the Activation and Mobilization phase actually builds on these temperature-related elements of the warm-up and that the benefits of the Raise phase are not lost.

Below Ian talks about how to make warm-ups effective and efficient and the challenges of static stretching and why focusing on movement patterns such as squat and lunge patterns are a better option for a warm up.

RAMP Warm-Up Squat
Squat pattern prepares the whole body, keeps body temperature up, mobilises joints and increase movement capacity

Additionally, long-term development of an athlete’s performance capacity should focus on integrated movement rather than simply on the range of motion around specific joints. Movement capacities depend upon so much more than flexibility. Effective movement requires the integrated and coordinated movement of multiple joints. To this end, the Activation and Mobilization phase should focus on building effective fundamental movement patterns through a full range of movement.

Here the focus is not on flexibility but on mobilisation, or actively moving the body through the movement patterns and ranges of motion they will be required to master for their sport and for their performance capacities. This is an important distinction, in that, even if an athlete has an excellent static range of motion, this cannot ensure that they are able to actively use this in producing movement. It is not uncommon to see athletes with excellent static ranges of motion who are unable to take advantage of that within a dynamic movement pattern. This is because mobility relies on much more than simply flexibility. For mobility, an athlete has to be able to actively move through a full range of motion and this requires elements of stability and motor control as well as flexibility.

While dynamic movements have become far more popular in warm-ups over the past few years, these are often performed with poor technique, with the athlete using momentum to produce the movement patterns, thereby losing the long-term motor control benefits afforded by these methods. Additionally, the focus on correct patterns ensures that the athlete remains more focused on the performance of the movement and less able to perform the action with no thought given to the movement itself.

Additionally, this phase can be used to correct movement patterns and to develop appropriate activation patterns. In these instances where athletes have issues such as glute activation and shoulder stabilization problems, specific exercises can be chosen which directly address the required activation patterns within these movements. This affords the coach and athlete additional time to work on appropriate rehabilitation and prehabilitation exercises.

The Potentiation Phase

Athletes have always intuitively included this type of activity within their warm-ups. For example, a sprinter will always do a series of build-up sprints prior to the performance of their event. Similarly, a power lifter will always do a series of progressively heavier lifts prior to a one-repetition maximum. This is because the Raise phase and the Activation and Mobilization phase simply do not prepare an athlete for explosive and high force performances. This requires an increase in intensity of activity so that there is a progressive development of intensity up to maximal effort.

Despite this, the Potentiation phase is perhaps the most omitted phase of a warm-up in many team and court sports. All too often, this simply consists of a small number of sport-specific activities and no control of the progression of the intensity. Similarly, many research studies also make this mistake, where a warm-up simply consists of general warm-up and stretching activities. Ironically, many studies have presumed that because they have replaced the static stretching activities with dynamic stretching activities that they have optimally prepared their athletes for performance. Jeffreys argues that this is not the case unless there has been a targeted Potentiation phase, during which intensity of activities has been appropriately progressed.

How To Do The Potentiate Phase

This phase can be used in a number of ways. In a competition warm-up, it can be used as a rehearsal of the activities that the athlete will face in the upcoming competition. With training warm-ups, it can be used either as appropriate preparation for the upcoming main training session, as a session in itself, or as a mixture of the two.

As the Potentiation phase is a progression of specific movements or skill patterns, it provides an ideal opportunity to deliver effective speed and agility training. In this way, targeted speed and agility development can be effectively integrated into the warm-up, allowing for a great deal of additional training stimulus with little or no increase in overall training load.

For activities that require maximum levels of speed, strength, or power, another potential application of this phase is through post-activation potentiation (PAP). Here warm-up activities such as heavy squats or explosive Olympic lifts may have the capacity, for some athletes, to increase subsequent performance in strength power and speed activities. However, the results of studies into PAP are equivocal and highly individual.

The man behind the RAMP Warm-Up – Ian Jeffreys

Ian Jeffreys, PhD, ASCC, CSCS,*D, NSCA-CPT,*D, RSCC*E, FUKSCA, FNSCA. Yes, that is an impressive amount of letters after his name, this means and proves that he is one of the most distinguished and qualified strength and conditioning coaches not only in the UK but worldwide. He is a professor of strength and conditioning at University of South Wales and has worked with numerous athletes from juniors to the elite.

Ian is also the editor of the UKSCA journal Professional Strength and Conditioning and is on the editorial boards for Strength and Conditioning Journal and the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. He has authored five books and he contributed the warm-up and stretching chapter for NSCA’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning.

How to do the RAMP warm-up

  1. Raise

    Increase muscle temperature, core temperature, blood flow, muscle elasticity and neural activation. This could include, jogging, into a side shuffle into back peddling for example.

  2. Activate

    Engage the muscles, prepare them for the upcoming session, e.g, for glutes, do a glute bridge, for shoulders do some internal and external rotation.
    Athlete performing an external rotation to activate the shoulder in RAMP warm-up

  3. Mobilise

    Focus on movement patterns which will be used during the game and help long-term mobility, such as lunge and squat patterns

  4. Potentiate

    This is the rehearsal. Gradually increasing the stress on the body in preparation for the upcoming competition/session. Think sprinting, jumping, hurdle run, lateral bound or if your in a gym working on deadlifts this would be your ‘warm up sets’.

The Warm-Up

Article adapted from:

The Warm-Up

Ian Jeffreys

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This entry was posted in: Fitness & Health, Strength & Conditioning

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Hi, I'm Ryan, one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe Ltd. (If you want my official title, it's Marketing Executive.) I've always had a passion for health and fitness, having previously worked in gyms and played a variety of sports all my life. Now (as a somewhat of a washed-up athlete) I find myself working at the world’s biggest independent publisher of sport, health, dance and fitness resources. Which is amazing! Why? Because I get unrestricted access to all the best, most interesting, scientifically-proven writing on sports science. And what's more, I get to share it all with you!

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