I was at a baseball game the other day and commented to someone that I couldn’t believe one player was solely stretching for his warm-up, and believed that would prepare himself adequately to play a baseball game. I mentioned some general thoughts on necessity of temperature increase and muscle activation, nothing super scientific (probably a good thing). His response, “You should write a blog about that.” So here we are.
Many of you might find this topic relatively obvious and, if so, that’s great. It’s not for you then. It’s for the rest of the people who we assumed we have done a good enough job of spreading basic information to regarding health and exercise. Guess what? We’re wrong. There’s tons of people who don’t know where to start for something as fundamental as a warm-up. Maybe you are that person, here to learn. If not, maybe you are a professional with an influence on some people who could benefit from this type of discussion.
I’m sure you see it at the gym non-stop. A guy walks in, chugs his pre-workout, does some quick arm circles, and then heads to the dumbbell rack for curls. Maybe they try a little harder and hit the bike before their squat day. Do you see more runners prepare to run by doing hamstring stretches or by doing planks? Most people seem to lack a general strategy of what they need to accomplish. This can become a very complex topic and we can individualize it for everyone based upon their demands and their limitations. Using some relatively lay terminology, let’s just outline some easy principles for what should get done in a warm-up to improve performance and decrease injury risk.
1. Increase body temperature
There’s lots of research showing that raising your temperature has a multitude of good influence. Increased circulation, heart rate, oxygen delivery, muscle elasticity, and cell metabolism are the purpose here. Those translate to less muscle strains and increased muscle and cardiovascular function. Side note: this is much more effective when done actively than done passively. AKA hit the rowing machine, not the sauna.
Examples: jog, row, bike, (hopefully not but If you must) treadmill or elliptical. One strategy could be to do a lot of the following examples in a way that gets your heart pumping.
2. Take joints through full range of motion needed for exercise
Putting your body in the shapes that it will need to be in for your sport or workout seems to inherently make sense to most people. It ensures your muscles, ligaments, and joint capsules gain the mobility needed in a controlled setting, before there is weight or speed applied. Getting your joint (synovial) fluid moving will help prevent joint injury as well. This doesn’t mean “stretching”, this means getting your body acclimated to positions and moving through them.
Examples: deep squat, hip hinge (RDL), slow shoulder circles
3. Use muscles that will be used in the workout
This provides many of the same influences and benefits covered in section 1, but makes them happen specifically at the muscles we need them at. Also, it gets your brain signaling your muscles to do what they need to, and it will allow that to happen more efficiently so that we perform better when we start working.
Examples: air squats, lunges, pushups, light versions of the exercises you are going to be training heavier
Adding these three things alone should set you up for much more success than had you not done any/all of them. If you feel like getting a bit more specific, consider including these two components as well.
4. Activate core, glutes, and low/mid traps
These are the 3 regions that most people have weakness at. If everyone was strong or active at these groups, I would probably not have gotten 2/3rds of my clients. You can look at these muscles as the victims of the first world culture we live in that demands sitting, computer work, and phone use in excess. Getting your brain to be able to use these muscles and gain strength is huge.
Examples: front and side planks, bird dogs, bridges, mini band lateral walks, shoulder T’s and Y’s
5. Work on imbalances
This might be something you need a therapist or strength coach to help you identify. Many people have areas that are less flexible or less strong than we want them to be. These imbalances can lead to injury and decreased performance. This would be an individualized addition usually based off of technique errors, testing, or injury history. If making your ankle range of motion or your shoulder strength more symmetric is a possibility, that would be a nice change to make.