Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Warm up for Taekwondo

I got an interesting question the other day when I chatted with a friend about general Taekwondo training, and the conversation turned toward warm up. This is something that is often a missunderstood part of training, and it also comes with its own myths as well. I like to believe that Taekwondo being in the Olympics has made more instructors aware of sport science and that we generally have moved on from the 1950s/60s idea of a warm up based on army training. I see that modern Dojang that leans toward Olympic sparring is actually more up to date on this area, and holds an advantage over "traditional" oriented Dojang around the world. It is more often than not those "traditional" oriented Dojang that does not understand what a warm up is for in my own opinion. There is a lot of heavy science and theory behind what a good warm up should be, and what the purpose of a warm up is.

However instead of sharing a lot of dry research material, and a lot of theory, I would rather just share my thoughts on the topic of warm up, both its purpose, its length and proposed drills, and why those drills have been selected.

Purpose (goal) of warming up:

I find that if I have a clear goal I get better results. This means an overal goal of training, goal of the session itself, and goal of the sub parts of a particular session. My warm up varies according to the goal of the session I am about to do, but the main purpose of a warm up remains the same. Definition of a good warm up in my own words and my own thinking:

A good warm up should prepare your body for the task at hand (the current session you are about to start), and function both as an energizer and to to prevent injury by getting the body ready for training.

My warm up is about 10-15 minutes in a normal session. Some say we should warm up longer, some say shorter. To me it depends on the session you are about to do. If I am going to do an Olympic sparring session I will warm up a lot differently than I would if I am doing a session focusing on traditional taekwondo. Likewise a warm up for stretching is different than a warm up for strength training. The length varies as well, both on what kind of session you are going to do and on an individual basis. In the dojang I practise in and teach today we do a warm up together, but in the old days and in Korea even today it is normal to show up for practise before the pracise session starts and warm up yourself. I think that if the student is taught how to warm up this is a far better approach than doing a common warm up because of the individual variation, but a common warm up for the group is better than no warm up.

I often see the injury prevention reasoning behind a warm up, but only rarely if ever do I see the giving of energy when talking about the warm up. I have allready mentioned the individual variation of warm up needs, but I need to add: One mans warm up is another mans training! Your body should be ready for excersise when you have finished your warm up, you should not be tired or very out of breath. If you are, you are not doing a warm up, but rather you are working on (most probably) anaerob endurance training.

So short sumary:
  1. Prepare the body for training
  2. Give energy
  3. Injury prevention
The two parts of a warm up:

I usually divide a warm up into two parts:
  1. General warm up
  2. Training specific warm up
General warm up:

The general warm up is to get the blood flowing and to bring oxygen to the muscles so they are ready for practise, and to rise the body temperature a little. This consists of roughly half of my warm up time, perhaps a little less. Examples of excersises and drills are below, but keep in mind that they should be performed lightly, not doing it with an "all in" attitude.

  1. Skipping rope
  2. Gentle jogging with added variations (backwards, sideways, crossing the legs forward and back)
  3. Gentle and few push ups, sit ups and squatts/jumps
  4. "Mountain climber"
The common theme here is that the drills above are done lightly, get the blood flowing, and generally prepare you for using your body in the work out to come. You should not be out of breath here. If you are you should go slower.

Specific Warm up:

As you might have guessed by now, the specific warm up should consist of excersises that closely mimics what you are about to do. This is perhaps the part of the warm up that varies the most according to the specific training session you are about to do. Are you going to focus on Poomsae or Olympic sparring? Are you going to focus on throws and wrestling? Is there a kind of kick you are going to spend a lot of time on?

Examples of specific warm up exersises:

  1. light shadow boxing/ footwork of Olympic sparring with knee lifts instead of actual kicking extensions. In other words chamber your kicks but dont kick)
  2. Gentle poomsae practise (go through the motions without Power, and with low to medium kicks instead of head height)
  3. Leg swings (front, side, back, inward crescent, outward crescent etc)
  4. Pushing or pulling a partner
  5. Gentle wrestling (playing for position) with little power
  6. Flow drills of various kinds
Note you dont do all the general warm up and specific warm up examples here, you pick according to what you are about to do. In my personal training and when I teach I almost 100% of the warm up include leg swings. Why? Because they give you dynamic flexibility (the kind you need for kicking) and it specificly prepares and trains the muscles and ligaments you use when you kick. In a kicking art like Taekwondo this is a good deal. I usually include 10 on each foot for each way of leg swings.

Again I stess that when you are finished with the warm up you should feel energized and ready for training, not tired and worn out. Generally I have found that children needs less warm up than grown ups do. This is most likely due to them often being more active and more flexible than their grown up counter parts. That being said I have observed that a more still sitting lifestyle where children are spending more and more time before a computer, playstation etc is giving us less flexible and less active children, so the observation of children generally needing less warm up than grown ups might change at some point in the future.

An example of a warm up for a Poomsae performance training session:

Overall time 15 minutes

General warm up 5 minutes:

  • Arm swings, ankle, knee, shoulder, neck turning+ light stretching 2 minutes
  • Jogging forward, backward, sideways, sideways crossing feet forward and back 2 minutes)
  • Pushups, sit ups and squats 1 minute
Specific warm up 10 minutes

  • Leg swings (dynamic stretching) front, side, back, inward and outward 5 minutes
  • Light shadow boxing (focus on arms) relaxed 2 minutes
  • Light Poomsae practise (focus on breathing, relaxed no power) 3 minutes
Note how we start from general warm up to get the body ready, to more and more specific training toward poomsae. It is not by accident that the last point above is light poomsae practise.

An example of Olympic sparring session:

Overall time: 20 minutes

General warm up 6 minutes
  • Arm swings, ankle, knee, shoulder, neck turning+ light stretching 2 minutes
  • Jogging with variations 1 minute
  • Mountain climbers 1 minute
  • Skipping rope 2 minutes
Specific warm up:
  • Leg swings with variations 5 minutes
  • Shadow boxing focus on arms and footwork 2 min
  • Shadow boxing but with Olympic style footwork and Chambers of kicks 3 minutes
  • Shadow boxing but with a partner, only Chamber of kicks and footwork. Focus on distance to partner, build up speed. 2 minutes
  • Same as above but with kick extensions, only to body and slow the pace down a bit 2 minutes
Since Olympic sparring is more taxing on the body and require a great deal of athletisism the arm up is longer. Also not how in the specific part of the warm up we gradually work ourselves up to Olympic free sparring. If you were to do this warm up you could start to free spar imidiatly, or more likely practise some drills on the pads, and hogu before actually free sparring.

The list of examples are just that, examples. Actual warm up drills both for general and specific warm up are endless and you are only bound by your imagination. You simply need to follow the goal of the training and work from more "general", toward more "specific", while keeping in mind the goal of the warm up: Injury prevention, getting the body ready and to give you energy. If you can do all that I think you can have a great warm up, and a great training session as well :-)

I hope to provide much more video content to this blog in the future. I have therefore set up a GoFundMe page on www.gofundme.com/traditionaltaekwondoramblings which I hope I can crowdfund a video editing software so I can make good quality videos for the blogs readers. If you want to contribute please visit the link to my GoFundMe page. Every donation helps :-)


  1. Hi,
    Just this week i was thinking about this topic, so thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge! I would like to know more about it, would you recommend any book specific to TKD?
    Nuria MG

    1. The only Taekwondo specific book on warm up (and stretching, breathing, etc) is by my own master called "Su Shin". Its only in Norwegian I`m afraid :-( There are good articles that can be found online though. I`ll see if I can track some down, but dont hold Your breath because Im veeeery busy at the moment :-/

      Thomas Kurtz book "Stretching scientifically" contains a lot of valuable material on both warm up and stretching. If you do not have it, it is a book I will safely recommend to you :-) It is not Taekwondo specific, but it contains a lot of material that is specific to martial arts that kick high.

  2. Thanks! I really appreciate your recommendation :)

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