You’ve seen it a thousand times. It happens before every game, at every level (and not just in sports, but also in music, theater, and dance). Before the game begins, the players loosen up. They get the juices flowing, they do a few moves, find their rhythm, and get comfortable. We call this process “warming up.” Warming up is widely accepted, and it’s completely fine.
The problem with warming up, however, is not what you do. It’s what you don’t do.
When you warm up in the traditional way, you forgo something important: the opportunity to get better. The evidence for this is the habits of top performers. Because they don’t merely warm up. They do something different. You could call it “learning up.”
Steph Curry is a good example. Here’s how he prepares for each game.
The whole thing is worth watching, because in a few minutes Curry highlights the key features of learning up, and in the process demolishes several myths about warming up.
Myth #1: The goal of a warmup is to get comfortable
Reality: Curry’s goal isn’t to get comfortable — it’s the opposite. He takes on a series of difficult tasks designed to test him, to put him on the learning edge, making mistakes and fixing them. By being uncomfortable now, he prepares himself to be comfortable later.
Myth #2: Keep intensity light, save your energy for the game
Reality: Everything is high intensity, high focus, and high energy. He dribbles hundreds of times. He takes 75 jumpers, for starters, far more than he’ll take in a game. The energy can be restored. What is not restorable is the opportunity to pre-create game intensity.
Myth 3: Warmups are loose affairs. You don’t have to design them.
Reality: Every moment of Curry’s 20-minute warmup is designed within an inch of its life to target the key parts of his game. There’s flexibility and fun — notice how he progressively alters the arc of certain shots, and takes an insanely long shot at the end — but only within a larger structure that purposely built to expand his skillset.
Myth #4: You should try to avoid making mistakes
Reality: Curry makes mistakes all the time. And it’s purposeful: he is constantly adding little extras to make it tougher — fakes, moves, changing the arc of the shot. He does this because he understands that the goal is not perfection; the goal is learning, and to do that, you need to make mistakes and pay attention to them.
Myth #5: The purpose of warming up is to prepare you for the game
Reality: Curry’s real purpose here isn’t to just prepare for the game, but rather to improve — to fix his weaknesses and build his strengths. Performance in the game is a side effect of getting a little better every single day. This is one reason why Curry, a small, skinny player who was lightly regarded during his first years as a pro, has been able to transcend his sport with a skillset that no one else possesses in today’s game. It’s not like he was great all along. He became great through his work habits, by getting a little bit better each day.