Importance of a Good Warm-Up

The warm-up is typically thought of as a way to prepare the body to function more efficiently during vigorous physical activity and to prevent injury. However it is little understood that a good warm-up also serves some extremely important psycho-physical functions. While a good warm-up raises the heart rate, stimulates circulation and elevates body temperature, it also harmonizes the mind and body, contributes to coordination and timing and helps achieve a level of centering that is essential for optimal performance in the martial arts. For example, a good warm-up is akin to tuning a fine instrument such as a violin. The violin itself may be seen as being the human body and the mind may be represented by the strings. Unless the violin and the strings are finely tuned, and brought together in harmony, little can be produced on the violin that can be construed as being good music. The same applies when we attempt to perform the type of complex coordination/timing movements that are required of us in the martial arts. Thus the goal of a good warm-up, in addition to preparing the body for the physical demands of the activity, is to finely tune the mind and body and achieve a level of harmony and coordination that enables the martial artist to perform at a higher level.

To determine whether the warm-up is effective we must look for both internal and external indicators. Internal indicators include a higher level of focus, concentration and centeredness. External indicators take the form of greater ease of movement, a higher level of fluency, timing and coordination, and increased energy levels. The body also feels warm, loose and “well oiled” and prior aches and pains begin to subside. The martial artist begins to look sharper, faster and more powerful.

Introduction and Rationale

While a proper warm-up is necessary before embarking on any sporting activity, it is especially important in judo and jujutsu. These martial arts make extraordinary demands on both the mind and body and, unless students are fully prepared both psychologically and physically, they open themselves up to injury and are less likely to get the most out of a workout, or contest. Thus, a good warm-up should be seen as an essential preparatory phase that lays the foundation for an effective workout, class or contest. In fact, the warm-up should be seen as an integral part of a workout and not as something to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible so that the “real” workout can begin!

At the beginning of a workout it is not unusual for students to feel excited and eager to get into some “real” jujutsu or judo. In such an atmosphere the warm-up often seems like an unnecessary obstacle that gets in the way. Consequently, it is often handled in a perfunctory manner, exercises are performed quickly and in a jerky manner, and no system or logic appears to guide the conduct of this phase of the workout. Such a warm-up often fails to achieve the goals of preparing students physiologically and psychologically to get the most out of their workout, and may even predispose them to injury. Thus, at the end of the warm-up, instead of feeling focused, calm and controlled (that is to say, “centered”) loose, pain-free and energized, students are over-aroused, “hopped up” and in a state of mind that is totally inappropriate for meeting the complex requirements for control, precision, fluency and coordination that are so essential in judo and jujutsu. In fact, students who suffer through such a warm-up (fast, jerky and high impact) are so over-aroused that they end up looking hyperactive and more ready for a brawl, than a martial art.  Consequently, they are likely to have a less than satisfactory workout and may go away feeling dissatisfied and frustrated. Such experiences are not likely to motivate students to come back. What some instructors need to appreciate is the fact that the quality of their warm-up determines the quality of the ensuing workout, lesson or contest.

The greater goal of a good warm-up is to help students achieve an optimal state of psychophysical readiness (internal harmony)  and interpersonal harmony, or the ability to harmonize with their partner. Internal harmony is associated with feeling centered. Such a state helps students learn faster, and play or compete more effectively. In this state, their body functions like a well oiled machine and their mind reflects calm and focused concentration, and control.

It is the purpose of this paper, therefore, to clarify the functions of warm-up and provide some basic guidelines that both students and instructors may use to enhance the quality of their judo and jujutsu experience.

For maximum effectiveness, a good warm-up must take the student through FOUR linked psychophysical stages. Physically a good warm-up:

(I)               Helps the body achieve a state of readiness;
(II)            Stimulates circulation and helps elevate body temperature;
(III)         Helps increase flexibility by stretching and loosening all major muscles and ligaments, and,
(IV)         Helps develop coordination and good timing.

Just as importantly, a proper warm-up also prepares the individual psychologically to achieve an appropriate level of:

(I)               Concentration/focus
(II)            Heightened level of body awareness
(III)         Mind-body unity (internal harmony)
(IV)         Interpersonal harmony (ability to harmonize with partner).

These are, of course, the underlying components of centering2, without which a martial artist is rarely able to tap into his or her sources of inner strength and generate power1.

The final stage, Interpersonal Harmony, speaks to the ability to anticipate and “harmonize” with a training partner’s or opponent’s attacks and turn them to one’s advantage. It may not be immediately obvious but good instructors realize, from years of working with students, that different preparatory exercises (and the manner in which they are performed) affect students in different ways. Thus, they attempt to tailor-fit their warm-up to best prepare their students for the type of session they have in mind. Clearly, the mindset required for learning in a class situation is quite different from that required for a rigorous workout. And, a contest situation requires yet a different type of preparation if the competitor is to achieve a level of psychophysical functioning that is most effective in meeting the demands of the contest environment. Interestingly, the same principles hold true for warm-up regardless of the objectives sought. What differ are the specific “channeling/bridging” activities (and manner of execution) that an instructor introduces in the latter part of Stage IV in order to channel students from the more general warm-up to the demands of a workout (for fitness training), class session (for learning), or for contest. Thus, while it may be argued that a twenty minute warm-up takes time away from judo or jujutsu practice, ultimately it pays off by helping students get more out of the activity. This is possible because a good warm-up enables students to function at a much higher level of effectiveness and efficiency, resulting in an overall increase in the quality of the experience. By being more efficient they waste less time and effort, their learning rate and performance improve, and they accomplish more. Maximum efficiency, minimum effort (or efficient use of energy) , just as Dr. Kano would have wished it! Thus, a sound warm-up should enable students to feel loose, energized, coordinated, and strong. Pre-existing aches and pains should disappear, motivation should increase and prior feelings of fatigue should wash away. Further, students should feel an increased sense of confidence in the body to perform. By the end of the warm-up students should be centered and feel like finely tuned musical instruments.

The types of exercises included in the warm-up, and the way they are performed, is also an important dimension of a sound warm-up. I offer the following principles to help achieve a state of readiness that can lead to effective learning and performance in both judo and jujutsu. Every warm-up session can be divided into FOUR parallel stages that are characterized by both a physical and a psychological dimension. The physical dimension pertains to (I) attaining body readiness, (II) stimulating circulation and elevating body temperature, (III ) stretching the deep body muscles and ligaments, and (IV) achieving coordination and timing. The four parallel psychological stages are: (I) Attaining concentration and focus, (II) developing body awareness, ( III ) achieving mind-body unity and, (IV) establishing interpersonal harmony with one’s partner.

 Stage I: Attaining Body Readiness and Concentration/Focus

Stage I is characterized by activities intended to achieve body readiness and a proper state of mind. Meditation is often one of the most effective ways for beginning this task. Meditation helps students gather their thoughts, has a generally calming effect and helps focus attention on the task at hand. This is an important phase in the mind tuning process since it helps set the stage for achieving the focus, concentration and control that are so necessary in the martial arts.

Stage II: Raising Heart Rate, Stimulating Circulation and Elevating Body Temperature

Stage II involves activities whose goal is to raise the heart rate approximately 20 beats above the pre-warm-up level (to about 100 beats per minute), stimulate circulation, elevate body temperature and begin to develop body awareness by mentally connecting with the body. Jogging (and other similar activities) round the mat or dojo  is often employed for this purpose. It is important to keep in mind that, regardless of the type of activity one selects for this purpose, the activity must be of reasonable intensity to raise the heart rate to at least one hundred beats per minute. It is also important to keep in mind that NO stretching exercises should be initiated until after body temperature has been elevated. A minute and a half to two minutes of jogging (or other appropriate activity) is often adequate at normal room temperature. Colder conditions may necessitate some adjustments to the duration of this phase. Once the body is sufficiently warm, it is now safe to begin Stage III , the stretching and loosening phase.

Stage III : Stretching, Loosening and Developing Mind-Body Unity

Most instructors are familiar with general stretching exercises so there is no need to elaborate on this. Suffice it to say that all major muscle groups and ligaments should be stretched gentlycalmly, and slowly.  These exercises should be done with patience and the instructor should convey to the students the importance of not rushing through this stage. If done properly, the stretching phase will also help students calm down and begin to get  more in touch with their body. Such body awareness is absolutely essential in all sports but it is doubly so in the martial arts where a lack of such awareness may result in severe injury. The instructor should help students at this stage by asking them to consciously focus their attention on the muscles that are being stretched. Jerky, high speed and high impact movements should be avoided at this early stage since the body is not yet fully ready for such intense activity. More importantly, the mind-tuning process should be a gradual one, and the manner in which the exercises are done will determine whether a proper state of mind is achieved by the end of the warm-up.

Mind-body unity (or Centering) is an essential precursor to achieving the next, and higher level of coordination and timing, which I call Interpersonal Harmony. If a student fails to achieve mind-body unity (Centering), he or she will find it extremely difficult to harmonize with an opponent’s movement patterns and respond, or counter, effectively. Putting it simply, when one is out of synch with oneself, it is near impossible to move about fluently and defend, or attack, with any degree of accuracy, control or good timing.

Stage IV: Developing Intra-Personal Coordination/Timing and Interpersonal Harmony

The goal of this stage is to enable students to move fluently and to achieve a state of Interpersonal Harmony. Interpersonal Harmony is defined as the ability to harmonize in a coordinated and fluent manner with the movements of a partner, a competitor, or an assailant. Clearly, the ability to attain this state is much impaired if students do not first achieve a state of mind-body unity (or Centering) as indicated at Stage III .

Stage IV is characterized primarily by timing and coordination activities that are directly related to judo or jujutsu. This stage may include, moving and fitting (sutekeiko), combinations (renraku waza) and various other activities that emphasize interpersonal timing, coordination and control. In jujutsu  techniques such as irimi nage or shiho nage, are particularly effective in helping students develop interpersonal harmony.

Stage IV is also the channeling/bridging or transitioning phase. It is the phase where the instructor, through the introduction of appropriate timing and coordination activities, prepares the student for class, workout or contest. Since each context requires a different type of psychophysical readiness, the “bridging exercises” selected for this purpose, and the manner in which they are practiced, are crucial in preparing the student to get the most out of the experience.

Once a proper state of Interpersonal Harmony has been achieved, the student is ready to engage in judo or jujutsu in the most productive manner. The student has now been finely tuned physically and psychologically to play at his or her optimal level of performance. The instructor will recognize this readiness because the student will exhibit many, if not all the following characteristics:

1. Increased energy levels
2. Higher level of motivation
3. Concentration and control
4. Increased confidence
5. Increased coordination and timing

The student will also report feeling:

6. Stronger
7. Faster and will generally look “sharper” and ready to go.

The Principles of Sequencing, Progression and Specification

In order to progress to the highest levels of psychophysical readiness the warm-up should be conducted in accordance with the principles of (i) Sequencing, (ii) Progression and (iii) Specification.

(i)The Principle of Sequencing

The Principle of Sequencing speaks to the order in which body parts are exercised. That is, does one begin the warm-up by stretching the muscles and ligaments of the feet first, then gradually progressing upwards to the waist, the arms and the neck, or does one begin with the upper body first? Or does it not matter? While there are differences of opinion on this point, there are good reasons for beginning feet first in both judo and jujutsu. The rationale for the order suggested above is as follows: If the base (feet, ankles, knees legs and low back) is not warmed up first, this tends to limit one’s ability to execute upper body exercises (e.g., turning and twisting at the waist) with any degree of confidence for fear of causing injury to the feet, ankles, knees or low back. For, while engaging in upper body exercises a student is supported by a base that has not been adequately prepared for the task. It is safer, therefore, to begin by warming up the lower regions (feet and knees) and gradually working one’s way upwards, in the correct order, to the waist and low back, chest and neck, finally completing this phase by focusing on the arms, hands and fingers. It is most strongly advised, therefore, especially when teaching adults who often require a more thorough warm-up to always begin warming up the feet first and then working one’s way upwards all the way to the arms, hands and fingers.

(ii) The Principle of Progression

The Principle of Progression refers to the types of activities and the manner in which they are conducted at different phases of the warm-up. Thus, exercises during the earlier stages should be done slowly, and should be of low impactlow complexity and low coordination. Near the end of the warm-up, and in an attempt to best match the essential characteristics of the martial arts in question, the movements should be executed slightly more quickly, and the exercises should be of higher impact, higher coordination, and of a higher degree of complexity. This is an important point to keep in mind since judo and jujutsu are complex, high coordination activities involving fast, sharp and flowing movements, often of high impact and intensity.

In addition to getting the body and mind as ready as possible for the ensuing workout, it is desirable to provide the type of warm-up that permits the transfer of skills and movement patterns that are most appropriate in judo or jujutsu. Activities that transfer best possess qualities that resemble most closely the movements of judo and jujutsu. Therefore, engaging in tai chi type movements (slow and low impact), or yoga type exercises (passive and of low complexity at this stage (Stage IV)  is inappropriate since the benefits that transfer from these arts are not compatible with the dynamic demands of judo or jujutsu. However, yoga and tai chi type movements may be appropriate during the early part of the stretching phase (early in Stage III of the warm-up).

In summary, the principle of progression suggests that early phases of the warm-up should include exercises that are of low coordination, complexity and impact which are executed more slowly. Progressively, and in the latter part of Stage IV, the warm-up exercises should reflect higher levels of complexity and coordination and should be executed in a manner that begins to resemble the movements of judo or jujutsu.

(iii) The Principle of Specification

Upon completing this first sweep of the whole body, beginning with the feet and ending with the joints of the neck, arms, hands and fingers, it is advisable to begin a second sweep by working one’s way back down to the waist, the low back, the thighs, hamstrings, calves and feet. In this phase, special attention should be paid to specific body parts and joints which are subjected to the greatest amount of stress in judo or jujutsu. This second sweep may be called “the finishing stage”. This principle is extremely important because it stresses the need to place a greater emphasis on those body parts which are subjected to the greatest degree of stress in the martial art in question. For example, while flexibility is essential in most, if not all martial arts, karate makes greater demands on the body in this area than judo or jujutsu. The Principle of Specification suggests, therefore, that additional stretching exercises for specific body parts may be more appropriate for karate students, during this phase, than for students in judo or jujutsu .

Using Light Calisthenics in the Warm-Up

It is often a good idea during the latter part of Stage III (Stretching, Loosening and Developing Mind-Body Unity), especially after all the stretching has been concluded, to include some light calisthenics. Calisthenics are especially good for working the deep muscles and ligaments, innervating more muscle groups, stimulating more circulation and raising deep muscle temperature. I favor 12-15 pushups for the upper body and arms; 15-18 sit-ups for the stomach, about 12 back-raises for the low back and 12-15 half squats (parallel) for the legs. For students who are normally capable of doing 30-40 reps of each exercise, the suggested repetitions (about one third to one fourth of max) simply serve as a very effective form of preparation, especially if students will be engaging in heavy randori, kumite or shiai. However, I should point out that when these same callisthenic exercises are executed to the maximum, they produce a training effect (for strength and/or endurance) and they may no longer be considered warm-up exercises. The point is that the same exercises, when executed with low repetitions, serve as effective warm-ups; when, however, they are done to the maximum they become strength/endurance training exercises (which fatigue the student) and therefore have no place in the warm-up. Good instructors who wish to include a strength/development component to their workout often incorporate such exercises at the end of the workout but prior to cooling off exercises.

Summary and Synthesis

In summary, the four stages of warm-up ( I. meditation, II. jogging or equivalent, III . general stretching exercises, and IV. exercises specific to judo/jujutsu) should take the student through FOUR parallel stages of physical and psychological preparation (see Table 1).

In the Physical Domain, the student will pass through the following four overlapping stages. In Stage I, the student achieves a general physical readiness. In Stage II, the student experiences an increase in blood flow and a rise in body temperature. In Stage III , the ligaments, muscles and joints will feel stretched and loose. In Stage IV, the student will feel an increased sense of coordination and timing.

In the Psychological Domain, the student will pass through four overlapping stages. In Stage I, the student will begin to experience increased levels of concentration and a focusing of consciousness. Stages II and III are characterized by an increase in body awareness and mind-body unity. When mind-body unity is achieved it is clear evidence that CENTERING has taken place. In Stage IV, the student will experience a heightened ability to move fluently, powerfully and with control. The student will experience an increased ability to harmonize with a partner’s movement patterns (Centering is a precondition for this to occur) and may also achieve what is referred to as “flow”.

When “flow” is experienced, students report that everything they do feels easier. They feel more coordinated and fluent and there is a merging of mind and body movements. In fact, they become the movement! While in the west we call this “flow”,  in the orient this process is known by various names such as “zen state” and “wa shin”, among others.

When centering and timing, and a heightened sense of harmony and flow are achieved, the student will be ready, both physically and psychologically, to get the most out of the class, workout or contest.

Finally, I wish to offer a warm-up sequence that incorporates the principles outlined in this paper. While the exercises themselves may be modified and substituted based on an instructor’s preferences, the principles of SequencingProgression and Specification should be adhered to if a successful level of psychophysical unity (internal harmony) and interpersonal harmony (harmony with partner) are to be achieved. Thus, a sample warm-up may consist of:

1. Meditation (1-1.5 minutes)
2. Short jog, jumping jacks or similar activity (1-2 minutes)
3. General exercises (stretching and loosening; light calisthenics, about 12 minutes)
4. Specific exercises (activities related to judo or jujutsu) involving timing, control and coordination. These may include moving and fitting, ukemi, sutekeiko and the like. For jujutsu, techniques such as irimi-nage or shiho nage are fine exercises for enhancing interpersonal harmony (about 5 minutes).

Thus, meditation jogging and stretching exercises should take about fifteen minutes, and timing/coordination exercises an additional five minutes for a total preparation period of twenty minutes.

Table 1: The Four Stages of Warm-Up: Physical And Psychological Effects

Activity (examples)   Physical Effects Psychological Effects
1. Meditation Physical Readiness Concentration/Focus
2. Jogging Increases circulation/elevation of body temp Increases Body Awareness
3. Stretching & light calisthenics Loosens deep muscles/ligaments Mind-body unity (Centering)
4. Moving & fitting/joining Coordination/timing Interpersonal harmony and improved centering)

1For a discussion of types of Force, see Yiannakis: “Shuchu Ryoku: How We Achieve Focused Power in Wa Shin Ryu Jujutsu” at:

2For a discussion on Centering, see: Yiannakis: “System, Philosophy and Principles Of Wa Shin Ryu Jujutsu” at:

 NOTE: For maximum long term benefits students should be encouraged to meditate on
their own for about 20 minutes several times a week

For comments, feedback or just plain criticism, you can reach me at:

Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.
Founder, Wa Shin Ryu Jujutsu
6th Dan, USJA Jujutsu
5th Dan, USJA Judo)

Research Professor, University of New Mexico
Copyright (C) 1995, 2000, 2009 by Andrew Yiannakis, Ph.D.
V5.4, 11-20-2009