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Taking Dead Aim, Or How to Warm up, then Ramp up Correctly for Training or Competition

May 31, 2005 08:47 AM

I love to Golf. I love the mental and physical aspects of the game, I love the way the ball feels when it comes off the sweet spot of the club, and I even like to practice. For a while, I practiced by hitting golf balls and constantly trying to get all the parts of the swing to come together. This predictably did not work out very well. Then I read a book called 'Take Dead Aim" by Harvey Pennick. This classic golf instruction book argues that the first part of a golf swing is deciding exactly where you want to hit the ball, and then taking dead aim at that spot and hitting the ball focused on the target, not the swing. This idea carries over to other sports in competition and practice, and for purposes of this article, warm up and ramp up. Many athletes from many disciplines have no idea how to warm up or ramp up. Whether getting ready to work out or compete, they focus on the wrong things in the wrong order for the wrong reason. Your "warm up" can be anything that raises the body temperature a degree or two. A light glaze of sweat on the skin means the body is literally warmed up, but that does not mean you are ready to compete or practice at the top of your game. Many athletes like to stretch beforehand for the very bad reason that is what their high school coach or gym teacher showed them that back in the day. That coach or teacher probably also told you drinking water gave you cramps. Not every person in a position of authority is in fact AN authority. In fact stretching before working out, practice, or a game, is a bad idea. Stretching a cold muscle is an invitation to injury, and a stretched muscle is a muscle less responsive to the stretch reflex, and therefore less explosive and less powerful. The correct approach is to do a low stress activity to get the body warm. Light jogging or slow sport related movements, kettlebell swings, some joint mobility movements, even some calisthenics work just fine. But what if a bodypart is still tight before a practice or competition? This is a sign something is not right and should be brought to the attention of your coach or trainer. If you must work it out, light massage and focused mobility work on that specific body part or joint will give your best results. If a chiropractor or ART practitioner is available, it can be a godsend. Most of the time this problem is in the low back or hamstring area. It is a good idea to work the hamstrings a bit more if the back is tight and the back a bit more if the hamstrings are tight.

Returning to my golf analogy, the first time I attended a PGA tournament I was captivated most by watching the pros get ready to play. They did some light mobility work to start, but what they did the most was hit shots exactly like they wanted to when it counted. They hit draws, fades, and knock downs to the flags at 100, 150, and 200 yards downrange on the practice tees. They hit their drivers a bit, but dialed in their putting stroke and got a feel for how the greens were rolling that day. They had a serious look about them and talked very little amongst themselves. When they had it dialed in, they shut it down and went to play. Incidentally, many came back to the practice area when done playing to correct any problem with technique they were having in their game that day. These post competition practice sessions were much looser and more relaxed sessions. This insight rapidly improved my golf game by showing me to focus on what I needed to do that day when getting ready to play, or to practice. This carried over into my Powerlifting training, and my warm ups and ramp ups became very focused on what I was doing that day, with stretching and more remotely associated drills and movements relegated to the end of the workout or a later time. My workouts begin with a few minutes of incline treadmill, the Russian movement Pavel described in June 2001 PLUSA, "protyazhka" (taking the empty Olympic bar and doing power snatches, press behind the necks, and overhead squats in succession for 3-5 sets of 3 to 5?ahem), some kettlebell or dumbell swings, or even a very hot shower. I then move to 135 or 155lbs on the bar, or 245 for the deadlift. Pavel has told me many times 135 is not enough for me to start with in the squat. Like other things, someday soon I will listen. (Pavel, you can edit my last article to say I now use the wall squat as a squat warm up along with the long pull ('protyazhka'), and I now start my squats at 225 or 245. Gotta change someday. Wall squats helped my squat today a great deal. ?Jack)

My first set is 5 reps. If it feels good, I go up 90 pounds, if not I do 5 more reps with that weight until it feels right. I do NOT do 10-20 reps in a row even with light weights. I may do 3-4 sets of 5, but not 20 in a row. My second ramp up set is 3 reps, the third set is 2 reps, then if there are more ramp ups, I go to just singles.

Pavel has discussed the idea of just being ready to go right to it with no ramp up. While I can and have been awakened from a deep sleep and jumped into full kit and launched on a mission, lifting heavy weights is a different game in my opinion. While I respect those who go right to it, and intellectually grasp the research that shows this may work well for some, my 90-pound jumps are far more important for me both mentally and physically. When I compete, I use the same 90-pound ramp up jumps. As I move up I add gear and let my psyche build with each set. Every ramp up set in a meet is done focused on my target of my first attempt. Every ramp up in training is focused, but with no psyche, on getting my technique perfect so in a meet I can take dead aim at my attempts. Like the pro golfer who takes dead aim at the pin in ramp up before he competes, and works on problems and technique at other times in practice, all athletes need to focus their practice on becoming masters of form and technique, with their competition ramp ups focused on their goal. You NEVER waste anything in the ramp up, you just prepare your mind or technique for what is to come. If it is not right, do it over, but keep it minimal.

Even pure endurance or strength endurance athletes need to use this focused, but minimal, approach to warm up and ramp up. For example, if you need to do 37+37 snatches for the RKC test, you don't need to do 37 snatches with a lighter KB as your competition ramp up. This might be a good practice drill, but 3+3 snatches with the size kettlebell you will test with is just fine. If it doesn't feel right, do it again. If you are running a marathon, a mile or two jog is sufficient. If you are getting ready to play a football game, practice the plays after some easy mobility work. Remember, practice ramp up is for technique, competition ramp up is for your head. Save the best for your competition or work sets.

As Chevy Chase said in the classic Golf Movie, "Caddyshack", "Be the ball, Johnny".


Jack Reape, AKA powerlifter54, is a Graduate with Merit of the US Naval Academy with a BS in Operations Analysis. He serves in the US Navy and competes locally and nationally when time permits. He is a multi time State, Region, and US Military National Champion.