Is Your Warmup Effective by Matthew Brown

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I’m writing this article out of a small discussion on Elite’s Q&A section with Harry Selkow regarding warm ups. First and foremost, I want to thank him for inspiring me to write this. He might call me gay for thanking him, but I believe that we are here on Elite for one common goal—to help each other get better. 

I don’t claim to know it all in regards to warming up or even pretend to know what warm-up method is best for each individual lifter, athlete, or average Joe. In fact, the more I read and learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. What I would like to offer in this brief article are ways to maximize the effectiveness of the warm up while minimizing the possibility of any detrimental effects. And, yes, the warm up can be detrimental. We will get to that. 

First, let us get back to the basics. What are the benefits of a warm up?

Increased blood flow to muscle tissue and joints and raised core body temperature

You’re probably thinking,Yea, yea, yea. I’ve heard this one a thousand times before.” I encourage you to review your warm up if none of the following are included: jogging, jumping rope, lateral shuffles, jumping jacks, seal jacks, X jacks, gate swings, body weight squats, marching, skipping, pogo hops, bear crawls, lizard crawls, mountain climbers, and inch worms. Blood flow to the tissues we’re about to work is crucial to injury prevention, and pliability of these tissues can’t occur unless we’re moving, not farting around.

Don’t forget that certain joints have a synovial membrane, which provides fluid and lubrication to protect the joint and allow it to glide freely. Imagine driving a car without brake fluid or oil for the engine. It wouldn’t last very long, and it wouldn’t perform effectively and safely. Remember the kinetic chain. Once one link is broken, the rest will fall as well.

Increased joint mobility

This one is a biggie. A mobile joint is a happy joint. The weight we have on our backs or in our hands is multiplied by gravity. The weight wants to fall to the ground. Our bodies must overcome that weight through joints that have optimal range of motion. If a joint has an impingement, tracking issue, or inflammation/pain, you can rest assured that your body will find a way to get that weight up using any means possible. That includes using crap form and other weaker joints that aren’t meant to take the load. For example, while squatting, wouldn’t you prefer to have the weight distributed as it should be throughout your hips, knees, ankles, and lumbar spine? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone at my university gym ride a stationary bike for one minute and thirty seconds, load up the bar with 185 lbs, and try to squat with good form. Are you kidding? His knees shoot forward, his heels come off the ground, and he doesn’t have any lumbar curvature. This is a recipe for disaster. But we are smarter than that.

An immobile joint can also reek major structural stress on the joint capsule itself (ligaments, cartilage) as well as to the surrounding assistive and stabilizing tissue supporting that movement. We have prime movers for a reason. Don’t let the smaller guys do the work. If we aren’t mobile and able to use a full range of motion on a particular exercise, what is the point of doing the exercise?

A colleague of mine once said, “There is only one way to squat, Matt, and that is the right way.” I love how Wendler says, “Don’t be a half rep Magee.” What happens if we push or pull a load past the range we have been training at? I don’t think our joints and tendons would like it very much, especially if it’s a heavy load.

The following are some mobility exercises that need to be included in your warm-up repertoire:

Standing

·          Knee hugs

·          Frankenstein walks

·          Walking quad stretches

·          Lunges with reach

·          Reverse lunges with reach

·          Lateral lunges

·          Serpentine lunges

Supine lying

·          Single leg hip extensions

·          Iron crosses

·          Leg kicks

·          Clams

Prone

·          Knee to elbows,

·          Swimmers

·          YTW series

·          Scorpions (if you like them)

All fours

·          Bird dogs

·          Fire hydrants

·          Cats and dogs

·          Hip circles

Dynamic/movement preparation

·          Mountain climbers

·          Groiners

·          Pogos

Central nervous system activation

“Prime the pump,” central nervous system activation can be a great jump start to your workout. The biggest benefit of this is the increase of motor unit recruitment and preparation for the application of force that we must put into the bar. The more motor units we can “wake up,” the better prepared our bodies will be to stabilize and mobilize an external resistance.

Here are some great exercises to use prior to your lifts:

Lower body days

·          Box jumps

·          Broad jumps

·          Pogo hops

·          Cro hops

·          Vertical medicine ball throws

Upper body days

·          Clap push-ups

·          Push-ups onto box

·          Horizontal medicine ball throws

·          Standing partner tire presses

·          Clap pull-ups

Muscle activation

This is an often overlooked aspect of training. Over time, we can develop particular movement patterns that can virtually “shut off” a muscle group. The glutes are a great example of this. If we commute, sit down for long hours, and watch football too long on Saturday and Sunday, we can inhibit our muscle tissues’ effectiveness of firing properly and efficiently. In essence, our glutes can fall asleep and not be as effective as they should be when it comes time to lift or do on the field work. The response of the body to this is that it will go into survival mode and use whatever means possible to accomplish the work asked of it. If you decide to do tire flips after a long sit down and without proper activation movements, you can rest assured your low back and hamstrings will do most of the work. This isn’t efficient or smart.

The benefits of getting our muscle tissue “activated” is important because we want to make sure that our motor firing patterns aren’t out of whack and that one muscle group isn’t dominating the other (i.e. hamstrings overpowering our glutes during sprinting, deadlifting, etc.). We want sequential firing, and we want to have our muscle tissues working in unison.

Resistance mini-bands are an excellent tool for glute activation. Here are some exercises that should be used in a warm up. Remember, these are just the glutes we’re discussing. I’ll let you use your creativity for other trouble areas.

·          Lateral band walks with band above knees or ankles

·          Diagonal band walks

·          Linear/reverse linear band walks

·          Clam openers (lying on side)

Pre-habilitation

In the words of Amy Winehouse, “They try to make me go to rehab. I said nooo nooo no.” I can’t stand that song, but it came to mind. I remember hearing a quote similar to this next one somewhere so I can’t take full credit for it—“If you don’t pre-hab, then prepare yourself for rehab.”

Pre-habilitation exercises become so vitally important to an exercise program that if they’re missing, I wouldn’t call it a program at all or at least one that will work to its injury-free potential. Foam rolling, tennis balls, massage sticks, DMS, body work massage, ART, PNF, tai chi, yoga, whatever floats your boat—all of these are great tools to increase soft tissue mobilization and relaxation.

I want to reiterate relaxation of soft tissue. If we’re working ourselves into a hormonal stupor, stressing ourselves out, and eating junk, no amount of pre-habilitation is going to help overcome connective tissue tightness. Our tissues will bundle up into the same old knots and develop into “syndromes” that can really inhibit our ability to perform optimally. Toxins can also make their beds in our tissues. Ask any person who has gone to a good body work masseuse who can locate trigger points and areas of tension. I’m sure they can tell you that the post-massage aftermath isn’t always euphoric.

My post-massage aftermath resulted in a week of diarrhea. I’m starting to realize the damage one’s diet and soft tissue limitations can do to the human body. We don’t want a storage house of these toxins. Get a massage as often as you can and let the body move as it was intended. Tai chi, yoga, or anything that can help us focus on breathing is a powerful tool. Breathing improves circulation, reduces stress, massages the gastrointestinal tract, and promotes well-being and rejuvenation.

Some other pre-habilitation exercises that must be mentioned are terminal knee extensions for VMO activation and strengthening (see the YouTube video elitefts/Buddy Morris for progressions) and shoulder tracking work with 1.5-inch bands (see the YouTube video elitefts- Dave Tate).

Motivation

If you’re tired, you aren’t inspired. This has been my Achilles heel for awhile. There are some days where I just want to avoid the warm up, go straight to the rack, hit my sets, and then leave. The same warm-up routine can get boring and may be hindering to the actual workout. I encourage you to find out what really motivates you to get going because if you can’t think of anything, the warm up can be just another way to not want to lift.

Time spent aloof and lazy prior to a heavy workout isn’t wise and is a great way to get injured. This really was the gist of my conversation with Harry Selkow—find something that fires you up! Mine is thinking of all my screw ups in life—failed relationships, not playing collegiate football or running track anymore, “things I could have done better,” and people telling me “I can’t.” Find your switch and what makes you focused. If you do find that switch, it can be an amazing motivational tool, and your numbers in the gym will skyrocket. 

Now that we have the benefits of warming up out of the way, what are some ways the warm up can be detrimental to our lifting? Here’s what came to my mind…

Taking too long!

If your warm up takes longer than 15 minutes, I’m not sure what you’re doing. Unless you’re a beginner and are using your movements/warm up for structural strength and basic aerobic conditioning, you’re probably farting around looking at the television or chicks in your gym. Maybe you live on the east coast and you’re in a snowstorm or something, I can maybe see that as an excuse for a prolonged warm up.

The warm up is exactly what it says—a warm up, not a workout. The only time it should be a “workout” is if you’re a deconditioned client or athlete or on an active recovery day and you want to hit all your favorite mobility movements. It’s vitally important that you don’t take too long during your warm up because you need to save energy for what you really plan on accomplishing in your workout. Don’t tax yourself. 

Doing movements that have little to do with your workout

Your warm up should include movements that are going to improve mobility and blood flow to the joints and muscle tissues you’re about to use. Don’t do plyometric push-ups prior to squatting. Use common sense. Focusing on what works for you prior to lifting will save you time and get you strong(er). Get ideas from others, but use trial and error to see what is effective in preparing you for the workout. The methods touted by Parisi and DeFranco are great starting points, but use what you feel is the most effective combination of exercises for you. 

Not sweating or sweating too much

Some people are just weird and take forever to sweat. I like to use this as one indicator of my body’s preparedness for a workout. You should be able to work up a sweat prior to lifting. If you don’t, your muscle tissue is probably not warm enough to provide the function you want. This also brings into question your heart rate and the peripheral blood flow. You can’t break a sweat talking on your cell phone or spending an hour foam rolling. You need to be moving.

The other part of the equation is sweating too much. Be cautious of this as a sign of dehydration. Remember that the role of water is to regulate body temperature, provide intracellular fluid balance, and get the metabolism working efficiently. If you’re dehydrated going into a workout, your body’s core temperature will rise much faster due to the lack of aid to thermo regulate. Therefore, in theory, you will sweat much more rapidly and have a higher volume of sweat to safeguard against overheating. I can remember a couple times after a night of heavy drinking sweating profusely during my workout the next morning. This isn’t true for everybody. Some people just sweat a lot. The acute effects of dehydration have been proven to kill strength. Enough said.

Another thing to be cautious of is having too much water and becoming hyponatremic. This is basically diluted sodium levels, which can be dangerous if you keep guzzling water. Again, use common sense. We should be drinking one liter of water for every pound of water lost after the workout. And I’m certain 98 percent of us don’t run marathons, so watching electrolyte balance shouldn’t be an issue.

No new challenges during your warm up

The body needs a challenge. How quickly an organism adapts to a new stimulus is dependent upon that organism’s neural advancement and efficiency. Elite athletes will adapt to new challenges must faster than average high school athletes because their central nervous systems have been exposed to many more motor stimuli throughout their athletic careers. They simply have to go back into the brain’s storage unit and grab anything similar to the new challenge and make the appropriate changes at the neuromuscular level to be efficient at that movement.

I’m getting a bit off topic now. My point is add variety to your warm up so that things don’t get monotonous and you lose motivation because you’re doing the same crap over and over. Have fun. There isn’t anything that says you can’t march the Prowler with lighter loads to elevate your body temperature and then hit your special mobility exercises prior to your workout.

A colleague of mine, Joe Romano, gave me this one. Use isometric holds for dynamic movements. For example, do a full plank for 15–30 seconds and move into 6–12 push-ups. Do a unilateral lunge and hold for 15–30 seconds and move into 6–12 in place lunges. Do parallel body weight squats, hold for 30–60 seconds, and do 6–12 body weight squats. Perform a supine lying single leg hip extension for 15 seconds and move to 6–12 single leg hip pop ups.

Be creative. Add complexity to movements so that your body is challenged neurally to perform a specific movement. Don’t do crazy things on Bosu balls. A good example of a complex exercise is a supine lying single leg hip extension isometrically held while performing a leg kick with the opposite leg. I know it’s a lot to digest for one exercise, but picture in your mind what I’m talking about. Read it over if you have to, and it should help. This is just one complex movement. As long as you can keep in mind the principle that while one joint is mobilizing another is stabilizing, you’ll be fine.

Stick with what you know works but don’t be afraid to venture into the yonder of new quality methods. “The proof is in the pudding.” You don’t know how effective a warm-up method can be until you try it. Your warm up should be your best friend, not your foe. Keep reading, Keep learning, Keep getting strong(er).

Matthew Brown is an NSCA-CPT and an intern/strength coach at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. A premier health and human performance facility that exists to motivate, educate, and inspire athletes and everyday clients to optimal levels of health and performance. He is graduating this December with a B.S. in Kinesiology from San Diego State University and will soon obtain his CSCS. You can contact Matt at ptbrown19@yahoo.com with any comments or questions.   

Elite Fitness Systems strives to be a recognized leader in the strength training industry by providing the highest quality strength training products and services while providing the highest level of customer service in the industry. For the best training equipment, information, and accessories, visit us at www.EliteFTS.com. 

 




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Submitted by DMorgan on Sun, 11/29/2009 - 10:10pm.

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