REPURPOSING THE WARM UP
UNLOCKING YOUR POTENTIAL BEGINS WITH PREPARATION
Let me begin by saying this. Movement preparation trumps every other movement parameter: variability, intensity, frequency, and more. Movement, by nature, is inherently good for the body, but it’s the movements you are NOT prepared for that could result in possible injury or pain. Whether that be prepared for: the load(amount of weight), end range (position of your tissues or joints during the movement), or skill (speed, environment, task demands). That’s where a purposeful warm-up is arguable the most important 15 minutes of your training. I’ve attempted to over simplify and break down a very complex topic. The one consideration I recommend asking of your current warm-up routine or potential methods you employ: How much utility does this intervention have? I’m a huge value guy so I choose the methods that accomplish the most benefit in the least amount of time. Nobody gets excited for Mobility Day, but I’m sure most people getting excited over new PR’s, injury free training, and crisp-clean-functional movement.
Let me give you an example. If you had to go in your backyard and chop down a tree with an axe, would it make sense to spend some time sharpening the axe to make your job easier and prepare the axe to work more effectively? Imagine the time it would take to chop down a tree with a dull axe or with the lack of necessary tools. All you had to do was spend 5-10 minutes sharpening and gathering the tools you needed to perform the job. Preparing the axe to work translates to a job complete with less aggravation and irritation. Warm-Up=Axe Sharpening
A warm-up should take about 15 minutes to complete; start to finish. The purpose of a warm-up is multi-faceted:
- Increase tissue and body temperature
- Improve joint lubrication
- Improve mobility
- Activate key muscle groups
- Practice and perfect targeted movement patterns
- Prepare the central nervous system to perform.
- Injury risk reduction
A warm-up SHOULD NOT take longer than your actual workout and it should not fatigue you to the point that in hinders your performance and/or training intensity. A proper warm-up moves mobility work-soft tissues releases and active stretches-to activation work with progressive increases in intensity of movement from single joint to multi-joint movements. Stress mobility first followed by control of that mobility followed by movement which combines both mobility and control.
It’s easy to get confused with an abundance of techniques, tools, and phrases. It’s not that any one type of warm-up strategy is inherently good or bad, but rather the sequencing, technique, and understanding of each method that matters most. Knowing WHY the warm-up and HOW the warm-up will translate to and maximize your performance may help provide some clarity before you head out on your next run, WOD, or practice session.
I like to break warm-ups down into 3-4 key subparts. No matter what your end goal is: endurance, strength, power, injury prevention; your warm-up should contain each of these components:
- General Warm-Up
- Self-Myofascial Release (As needed)
- Dynamic Warm-up
Not much needs to be said here. Hop on the treadmill and walk or hop on the stationary bike for 5 minutes. This gets the blood flowing. I also like to use this time to clear my mind from other distractions: work, personal life, stress. Get your body and mind ready to train.
Self-Myofascial Release (Foam Roll)
The intent of this post is not to examine and discuss the why and merit of foam rolling but as a healthcare professional it’s my duty to inform and educate. It’s important to note that you should do your homework and research why modalities or interventions work and don’t work. In the health and fitness world, we tend to quickly jump on a trend and just as quickly abandon it. The pendulum swings far and wide on this one-FOAM ROLLING, the self-myofascial release of debate. Before I proceed I have to be honest with you: I never prescribe foam rolling to my athletes or clients. If they choose to do it on there own time that’s fine by me. It’s a net neutral intervention, there is no harm but there’s also no benefit. By benefit I am referring to the following:
1) effects on short term ROM (range of motion)
2) athletic performance
There are a few studies that show some degree of acute ROM changes post foam rolling but another PRO TIP when examining evidence: Look at the TOTALITY of evidence, not just one study or trial. The data out there just doesn’t fulfill the narrative that foam rolling is beneficial.
KEY POINTS: Self-myofascial release in optional. If you have some problem areas then I prefer going with the lacrosse ball to be more specific on the target tissues.
TIPS: A foam roller has many great benefits that extend beyond “releasing tissue”. In fact, all of these strategies are more useful applications to the foam roller. Check out my colleague, The Barbell Physio’s post here:
For simplification, let’s break it down into a mobility phase and an activation phase.
Before we dive in, let me ask you this: Why do you strength train? I’m sure your answer was somewhere in the ballpark of: “To get stronger.” Just as you gain strength over time through overloading your body to progressively higher intensities, mobility should be no different. The goal should be to gain mobility over time. There are three rules to follow for mobility work.
- Identify your restriction and mobilize within the context of the movements to be performed or you are trying to improve. The mobility work should incorporate key joints and movements similar to the movements of your workout.
- Mobilize above and below a painful area. The painful or dysfunctional area may not be the pain generator or source of dysfunction, rather the messenger telling the body something in the chain needs to be addressed.
- If you can’t breathe in a certain end range position then you don’t really own that position. Consider holding a static end range for 3-4 breathes as opposed to a certain time count. Inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Aim for a 1:2 ratio of inhale:exhale. So a three second inhale with a six second exhale.
KEY AREA: T-Spine. Address extension AND rotation. The thoracic spine is the most underrated segment in the entire body. T spine is not only vital for overhead/upper body movements but its critical in foundational movement patterns in the lower body like the hip hinge (deadlift), squat (and its variations), and single leg loading which adds a rotational component to the movement.
TIPS: Spend 1-2 minutes in each target area. Don’t be overly ambitious and target 10 different areas. An upper body day may emphasize mobility in the thoracic spine, anterior chest, and posterior shoulder. Where as a lower body day may emphasize mobility in the inner thigh, anterior hip, and posterior lower leg.
Now that you have address mobility, it’s time to active key muscle groups. It’s a good idea to have a few bands of various resistances. I prefer these:
A high emphasis should be placed on quality and intensity of these activation drills. Focus on technique and stabilize in all the right places. Move purposefully through each movement. Your big lifts and performance will thank you.
KEY POINTS: Sometimes activation drills can clear up those “tight” sensations in a certain area. That just simply means that not everything that feels “tight” is a shortened muscle that needs lengthening, but rather a “weak” muscle group that needs to be strengthened. The brain loves to know a muscle group can be properly recruited and stabilize so make sure you prove you can from time to time.
KEY AREA: For the lower body it’s the HIPS. Unlocking the hips begins and ends with having active end range control in the hip flexors, hip abductors, hip extensors, and hip rotators.
TIP: If you are having a pinching sensation in your anterior hip it’s best not to force the capsule into a position it feels threatened in. See a physical therapist first (South Carolina has direct access) for a detailed assessment of potential causes and solutions.
Primers are warm-up sets of a given exercise. For example if today was a lower body day, you should consider performing 2-3 sets of squats at a lower intensity (percentage of 1RM) for 8-10 reps before moving into your working sets. Again, these warm-up sets should not hinder your working sets.
This will allow your central nervous system to recruit agonist and antagonist muscle groups to coordinate more purposeful and efficient movement. If you think back to the specific activation warm-up; you were targeting individual muscle groups in isolation. This synchronizes multiple muscle groups to work together to produce the same common goal: Move more weight more safely and explosively.
Human movement is complex and nuanced. Following these purposeful phases of a warm-up ensures that no stone goes unturned when it comes to being prepared to perform. You don’t need to nor can you assess and address every single deficiency or body part. Movement is a lifelong process and a ten to fifteen minute intervention before your next workout is not only manageable, its sustainable. A proper warm-up leads to improved performance and that may be good enough for you BUT I’m here to tell you its a two-for-one and injury prevention is in the bargain.