So, what are the main issues with current warm-ups being used today?
- Too much is relied upon static stretching (often grabbed from youth sport coaches or gym teachers)
- The needs of the body as a joint by joint process are ignored
- All movement patterns are not emphasized
When a proper warm-up is performed, the many benefits one can achieve include:
- an increase in muscle temperature and blood flow which allows for better oxygen and nutrient drop off,
- an increase in neuromuscular activation
- an increase in heart rate and catecholamine levels
- proper alignment/posture
Whether you want to fight Mike Tyson, wrestle a dinosaur, deadlift a house, run faster, or feel better, you better be taking the right steps to achieve these benefits before your training sessions.
1. Make sure any fascial restrictions are alleviated
2. Achieve optimal joint alignment, mobility, stability through the usage of dynamic mobility drills
3. Achieve an optimal physiological status
4. Make the warm-up specific to the activity
Step 1. Alleviating fascial restrictions
Alleviating fascial restrictions through the process of self-myofascial release using a foam roller, LAX ball, and other tools will help improve mobility and neuromuscular efficiency. Due to the breakdown of muscle tissue while working out, soft tissue adhesions and tightness can restrict the range of motion of a joint and cause muscular imbalance. These in turn can cause faulty movement mechanics, injury, and neuromuscular fatigue. Through myo-fascial release we can inhibit the muscle spindles through autogenic inhibition by stimulating the Golgi Tendon Organ which will reduce overall muscular tension. Decreasing the muscular tension in restricted areas prepares the muscle for proper range of motion durnig dynamic mobility drills.
Step 2. Achieving optimal joint alignment
When we view the body joint by joint, there are specific qualities we want to achieve at each joint to achieve optimal performance. Certain joints need different qualities. For example, increased flexibility at the lumbar spine is not something we want to achieve. With that being said, the following qualities should be the ultimate goal for optimal power output, strength, speed, or muscular endurance.
Joint by joint needs
- Foot= stability and control
- Ankle= mobility, dorsiflexion usually needing to be trained more than plantarflexion
- Knee= stability, balance between knee extensors and flexors
- Hip/Pelvis= mobility, stability, neutral positioning, and proper hip extension without compensations
- Lumbar spine= stability, stability, stability
- Thoracic Spine= mobility
- Scapulae= Stability, proper rotation
- Glenohumeral Joint= mobility, stability
- Cervical Spine= neutral alignment
Drills included in the warm-up should include the movement patterns of squatting (bi/unilateral), hinging, pulling, pressing, and rotation. With the usage of some of the mobility drills shared later, these qualities can be achieved.
Step 3. Achieve an optimal physiological status
Too many people hang by the thread of what is pushed in mass media or what their prior sport coaches or gym teachers used for warm-ups, the "if it was good enough for me, its good enough for you" approach. Most people perform static stretching to warm-up, that is fact based off what I see daily. However, static stretching is one of the worst things we could do to prepare for physical activity. A simple review of the optimal length-tension relationship is all that is needed here. In order to contract the muscles, cross bridges between our contractile proteins, actin and myosin, must form among other things. When holding a static stretch, we lengthen out the muscle past its optimal length/tension pulling the actin and myosin heads further from one another. Hence, when we then signal the muscle to generate force output, the cross bridges cannot easily form and bad things such as muscle strains and tears are at an increased risk of happening. Along with this, some individuals should not be stretching at all. If someone is already lax or has good/extra mobility at that joint, then stretching them will only make them more lax and decrease the stability around the joint.
So, the aim should be towards dynamic mobility drills which will help us achieve optimal joint alignment as discussed above, an increase in heart rate, body temperature, and neuromuscular activation.
Step 4. Activity Specificity
"Activity Specificity." That's fun to say. Lastly, we want to make the warm-up specific to what will be performed. If you are going to be squatting, better have something along the lines of a squat pattern, if you are running or jumping, better incorporate some running and plyometric drills. Simple.
An actual comprehensive warm-up I use with clients will be given in Part Two of this series, but here are some exercises to get you started.