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Monday, August 13, 2007

The Goal of Your Warm-Up

Being in this industry, I’m always taking to different people about how they train.

One thing that still baffles me, though, is when people say that either:

A) They don’t warm-up at all, they just hit the bar with light weights on their given exercise and “ease” into the session, or
B) They essentially do only A, but precede that with 3-5 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike.

Let’s look at the goals of our general warm-up, along with how I would set-up an ideal warm-up for a client.

1) The first goal of a good warm-up is to increase tissue temperature. This not only improves the extensibility of the tissues, but heat also increases excitability of the nervous system. Lastly, an increase in joint temperature helps to improve lubrication by decreasing the viscosity of synovial fluid. A warm joint when training is a happy joint.
2) Improve tissue quality. Elite track athletes often get massage immediately before running. Unfortunately, many of us don’t have the same means as elite track athletes, so this is where foam rolling and/or tennis ball work can come in. Improving tissue quality will lead to smoother movements.
3) Increase tissue length. This is where your basic mobility drills come in. As I’ve stated in earlier blog posts, I really like the idea of using micro-mobility drills first (such as Z-Health’s R-Phase), and then progress into drills with greater amplitude/carryover to movement like the drills from Magnificent Mobility.
4) Finally, I like to finish off with activation drills to improve motor control and get the appropriate muscles firing right before I use them. This may be different from what I’ve espoused before, but it seems to work well. I’m also using more activation drills immediately before an exercise regardless of where it is in my workout. An example would be performing a mini-band side step or hip correction immediately preceding a single-leg lift such as a single-leg RDL or lunge. Activate the glute medius, and then strengthen it with some iron work.

Walking on a treadmill simply doesn’t cut it, as it only satisfies one goal of our warm-up (improving tissue/joint temperature). It does nothing to improve tissue quality, activation, or get you anywhere near the joint positions you’ll be reproducing in your workout.

Warming up on your first exercise of choice (e.g. squat, bench, etc.) is great, but think of that as a specific warm-up. What I’ve outlined above is your general warm-up. A general warm-up should help you achieve the four points from above.

Quite simply, a proper warm-up will better prepare your body for the workout to come. It doesn’t have to take an exorbitant amount of time, but it should be an integral part of your program. Your body will thank you in the long run.

Stay strong

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