Why rugby players need to RAMP up
The science of warming up has changed a lot since rugby became a professional sport. In the old days, warm-ups (if they were done at all) involved a few neck rolls and shoulder shrugs, maybe a few deep-dive toe touches, and probably a thick layer of muscle warming ligament!
Fast forward to today, and warm ups are usually more involved and prescriptive. However, this may not be much better than the brief non-warm-ups of yesteryear. Some player’s warm-ups are now so complicated that they take longer than the actual work out! The warm-up pendulum has swung through a complete arc.
As with so many aspects of sports and fitness, extremes are seldom the best way forward and the most effective approach lies somewhere in the middle ground. For warming up, that middle ground is the RAMP method.
Why warm up?
Before revealing the brilliant simplicity of the RAMP method, lets remind ourselves of why warming up is so important.
A good warm-up will…
- Increase core temperature
- Increase muscle temperature, elasticity, and oxygen perfusion
- Increase muscle contractility and force development
- Increase joint mobility and stability
- Increase mental focus
- Improve workout or playing performance
- Reduce risk of injury…
The injury prevention claim associated with warming up probably won’t stand up in a court of law. After all, injuries happen whether you warm up or not. However, evidence does suggest you are less likely to pull a muscle if you warm up before strenuous exertion. As a good warm-up should only take a few minutes, and an injury could put you out of play for a season, it makes no sense to skip your warm-up.
Learn more about preventing rugby injuries in this free e-book.
Time spent warming up is time well spent, but there is no need to waste your time on warm-ups that are overly long or not specific to your needs. After all, if you are warming up for power cleans and plyometric training, there is no point spending 15 minutes on an exercise bike and doing lots of push-ups and crunches. This is akin to turning on the heating in your lounge and then spending the next few hours in your garage – a waste of energy.
Instead, your warm-up should prepare your body for what you are about to do. Save your energy for training and playing rather than waste it on activities that will have no or even a detrimental effect on your performance. That’s where the RAMP method comes in.
What is the RAMP method?
According to the fitness world, a warm-up should include the following elements:
- Pulse raise
- Joint mobility
- Dynamic flexibility
That’s a decent order of events for a general workout, but ruggers don’t train for general benefits, they train for a much more specific reason. Your workouts are designed to improve your rugby performance and so your warm-up should prepare you for the demands of what you are about to do.
If, for example, you are about to do a heavy upper body strength training session, you don’t really need to elevate your heart rate. That’s entirely the wrong energy system.
The RAMP method is ideal for ruggers. It’s much more specific and will prepare your body for the demands of your coming workout or game. It’s also efficient so you’ll have more energy to train or play at your best.
RAMP stands for:
- Range of motion
- Movement preparation
RANGE OF MOTION
Most people include stretching in their warm-ups, but this is NOT the time to try and increase your flexibility with static stretches that make your muscles relax. Instead, this part of the RAMP warmup should be built around dynamic stretches and drills designed to take your muscles and joints through a progressively bigger range of motion.
As well as preparing your muscles, this part of your warm-up will also increase synovial fluid production in your joints which will help lubricate them and ease any joints aches.
- Shallow progressing to deeper squats
- Walking lunges with overhead reaches
- Walking hamstring stretches
- Hurdle side steps and duck-unders
- Lunges with a twist
- High knee running
- Side steps with arm raises
As an added bonus, these dynamic exercises will also raise your heart and breathing rate, as well as your core temperature. They are the part of the warm-up that will make you warm. Because of this, there is no need to precede these exercises with cardio, as you would in a more traditional, general warm-up.
Playing and training for rugby are very dynamic activities but long hours spent sat at a computer or driving can put important muscle groups to sleep. The muscles most likely to need waking up are your glutes, core, and upper back.
Most activation drills involve tensing the target muscle in a variety of positions. Each exercise is hard enough to activate your muscles, but easy enough not to be exhausting. You should aim to contract the target muscle for about 5-10 seconds for 3-5 reps at about 20% of maximal effort.
- One-leg standing plus quadriceps extension
- One-leg standing plus hamstring curl
- Abdominal “snap” bracing
- Backward lean with forward leg extension
- Band side steps
- Band pull aparts
Your choice of movement preparation depends on what you are about to do and will provide you with an opportunity to practice the techniques and skills you are about to use. For example, if you are about to do a heavy bench press session, your movement prep could involve several sets using very light weights. Alternately, you can use a similar movement such as push-ups before bench presses.
Make sure you practice as you are going to perform. In other words, your technique should be identical even though you are using lighter loads or working at a lower intensity. Don’t get sloppy just because you aren’t into your main training session. Do just enough reps and sets to feel your muscles working but not so many that you begin to tire.
- Bodyweight squats before barbell squats
- Pulldowns before pull ups
- Strides before sprints
- Wrestling before contact drills
Potentiation is all about getting your muscles firing as powerfully and efficiently as possible. This will increase your force production potential. If done right, by the end of your warm-up you’ll feel stronger and more powerful than at the start. Your muscles and nervous system will be firing on all cylinders and you’ll be 100% ready to train or play at your best.
Potentiation is best achieved with brief sets of explosive exercises. Stop your set well before you start to feel fatigued but give each rep your all.
- Olympic lifts
- Speed squats, speed bench presses, and speed deadlifts
- Short sprints
- Medicine ball throws
- Tackle pad drills
- Zig-zag sprints
As with all aspects of the RAMP warm-up, make sure you choose activities that are specific to what you are about to do or, at least, affect the muscle groups you are about to use. Learn more about potentiation here.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
To get the most from the RAMP warm-up method, simply pick 1-2 exercises from each category and perform a couple of sets of low to moderate reps. Remember, the aim of is to prepare your body and mind for playing or training, and not tire you out or develop your strength or conditioning.
Within 6-10 minutes you should feel warm, loose, and ready to perform at your best. Spend a little extra time on any of the components that you feel are especially relevant i.e. if your muscles feel tight, spend more time on range of motion.
Time spent warming up is never wasted, but there is no need to spend longer on your warm-ups than necessary. Make the most of your time by using the RAMP warm-up method. It’s the ideal framework for rugby warm-ups, whether you are about to hit the gym or the opposition!