We have all heard that prior to exercise, preparation is key. However, many seem to neglect the importance and do not incorporate it into their fitness regime. You see it all the time; people walking into the gym, hit the treadmill for 2 minutes and then head over to start lifting. Others may go straight to the weights and perform a “warm-up set” before they start their heavy lifts. Knowing that proper preparation is key, why do we tend to ignore such an important aspect of our workout? Improving performance while reducing the risk of injury is greatly desired by everyone yet we lack dedicating time to such a critical concept.
A warm-up is the foundation of a successful practice or training session. Gradually increasing movement will raise heart rate, temperature and blood flow to the now activated muscles. A warm-up prepares the body physically while setting the tone for mental focus. It allows the athletes to hone in on session work while prepping for various intensities.
The effectiveness of a warm-up is related to temperature-dependent physiological processes. A temperature increase in the recruited muscles causes contraction to be more forceful and relaxation to occur quickly. As blood flows to the working muscles, more oxygen is delivered. Range of motion is increased during a warm-up due to reduced joint stiffness and decreased muscle viscosity.
Dynamic vs. Static Stretching
The most commonly used stretching techniques are dynamic and static. The question is, when should they be used in a workout and how can it benefit performance? To refresh your memory, dynamic stretching is active movement through a full range of motion while static stretching is multiple positions held for a certain period of time.
It is imperative to perform dynamic stretches in a warm-up for all of the preceding reasons; increased temperature, faster contraction rate, improved blood flow and range of motion. This emphasizes movements performed in activity as well as preparing the body for sudden or unexpected movements in play. Muscles that are not properly activated are at a higher risk of injury and may lead to impaired performance. When incorporating dynamic stretching, start out with a general warm-up (5 minute jog or bike) then proceed to specific movements. Specific movements should be performed at a low volume and intensity as they require more balance and coordination.
Benefits & Selection
Selection of transferable dynamic exercises will improve mobility and provide coaches information on athlete limitations. When I talk about limitations, I am referring to decreased range of motion observed when compared to optimal norms. Range of motion is the ability of a joint to move freely through a normal range. For example, if I asked an athlete to raise their arms over their head and they can barely bring their arms to their ears it is likely they have some limited shoulder range of motion. As an athlete, it is important to understand that becoming a better mover and addressing your limitations can help improve overall performance
As coaches, we can observe the athletes as they perform their warm-up and determine areas that require additional attention. The starting point is selecting dynamic exercises that pinpoint the areas most athletes lack mobility. Many athletes commonly display tightness in the hamstrings, glutes and chest. I recommend watching the video below where you will see Michael Brewley explaining the dynamic stretches he uses to evaluate movement and prepare his athletes for performance. Some of your athletes will hate you for making them stretch (especially if they can’t do it) but that extra bit of effort can be the difference in a competition.
Be creative with your warm-up. Whether preparing for slow strength or explosive power, there are countless ways to prep the body for work. For example, med ball exercises are a great way to prepare for Olympic lifts by initiating force production and targeting the stretch reflex. Stretch reflex will create a larger concentric contraction of the stretched muscles, generate greater power and in turn improve your Olympic lifts. I like to keep my warm-ups engaging by incorporating unique movements or challenges. My personal favorite is Bring Sally Up. On days we focus on upper pressing, this nice little challenge follows our dynamic stretching. This can be performed with a push up (as seen in the video) or a squat if focus is lower body. The sequence focuses in on eccentric, concentric and isometric loading with a touch of that burning sensation we all love!
Bring Sally Up
In order to enhance the preparatory phase of exercise, a 5-10 minute warm-up should be included prior, with a 5-10 minute cool down post exercise. Start general and progress to specific. This may include dynamic stretching and sport specific exercises to improve limitations. Be creative. Utilize scholastic resources to come up with one or two exercises that will target your fitness component that day. Don’t take the short cut when it comes to warming up. Everything you put in will reflect what you get out.
Take a second to think about your warm-up – are you properly preparing for your session? Are the movement patterns transferable to your sport? Are you addressing your limitations? If you are looking for additional guidance, contact us at Iron Performance Center!
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