Warm up routines have been common practice within any gym setting or sporting environment for decades, however much has changed over the years in terms of what is deemed most effective for reducing injury and optimizing performance.
Many new clients who attend their first personal training or group training session at The Fit Stop, have often never used a foam roller or done any sort of mobility or activation work. Its 2015 and warm ups have evolved beyond just a quick jog and some generic stretches.
To get a good understanding, its important to know the key purpose of a warm up, which is to:
- Stimulate blood flow to the muscles
- Increase the muscle and tendon suppleness
- Increase joint mobility
- Optimize muscle length tension
- Muscle and core temperatures
- Nervous system activation
- Release tight muscle and activate inhibited muscles
- Improve the overall quality of movement.
Take a look at these fancy graphs below…
Figure 2. The effect a warm up has on muscle and core temperature
Traditionally, warm-up techniques are classified in 3 major categories:
(a) passive warm up – increases temperature by some external means (like heat jackets or sauna)
(b) active general warm up (AWU) – increasing temperature by nonspecific body movements;
(c) dynamic warm up (DWU) – increasing temperature using similar movements and body parts that will be used in the subsequent activity.
Commonly, AWU and DWU methods are implemented sequentially. The first component of any AWU consists of foam rolling, activation and mobility work to help remove trigger points (those sore bits that feel like knots when you roll), to fix biomechanical deficiency’s (inactive glute muscles) and to improve the mobility of joints.
Basically this component will help clear up your movement patterns and help you learn correct movement. Static stretching tends to follow, involving the movement of limbs through its range of motion whilst simultaneously holding the stretched position for 15-60 seconds. Finally, a submaximal aerobic section (i.e., running or other light ‘cardio’) is the last element of the AWU with the key purpose of raising body and muscle temperature.
Following the AWU, dynamic movements should be used. Currently, research favours the use of DWU rather than static stretching exclusively as this movement prepares the muscles in a sport specific way whilst a static stretch warm up may loosen off the muscles, reducing elasticity.
Hence, static stretching may potentially degrade performance on balance, vertical jumps, short sprints, muscular strength endurance performance and reaction times if performed immediately before training. Additionally, several studies have demonstrated that static stretching pre exercise does not offer the presumed benefit of injury prevention as once thought.
You might now be thinking “What type of warm-up should I be doing before my work out, static stretching or dynamic movements, active or passive?” Well, to help you out we will take a closer look at the different types.
Generally speaking, key characteristics of an effective warm-up should consist of:
· Foam Rolling & self myofascial release (SMR)
· Muscle activation (e.g., glute activation)
· Active general warm up (e.g., cycling or running)
· Dynamic warm-up (e.g. mobility based exercises – lunge with twist, knee to chest etc)
· Specific warm-up (e.g., sprints, vertical jumps) *More commonly used in sport.
TYPES OF WARM UPS
Passive warm ups are not commonly used however do provide similar physiological responses such as increase core temperature, or muscle temperature by some external means such as a saunas, hot showers, heating pads or paths. A good example of where this method is used is in swimming. Prior to big meets the swimmers I work with will do their usual warm ups, however there is a good 30-45 minutes where they need to sit in a room for marshalling. Obviously, their muscles and core temperature will gradually cool down. Therefore we give them heat jackets that they wear up until their event begins. Seems to do the trick!
Active warm-ups involve the movement of large muscle groups to increase muscle temperature, as well as addressing the metabolic and cardiovascular changes needed to prepare the body for strenuous activity. Examples include running or cycling, static stretching, foam rolling and dynamic movements. There is no doubt that the time spent on warming up will improve an individual’s level of performance and accelerate the recovery process needed before and after training, so make sure you get in a good warm-up! First we will have a look at the different components needed to make up an effective active warm-up.
1. Foam Rolling.
This is the most effective and popular tool used for self-myofascial release, aiding in injury prevention, overall health and recovery. Basically, myofascial release is a hands-on technique used by therapists used to address the soft tissue quality. In order to achieve this release, a therapist would apply force (using hands), in a dragging action across layers of soft-tissue in the body. After a period of time, the body will “release” the tissue between the fascia and muscle (fascia is a substance that encases and links all of our muscles) and mobility is restored. To make these changes by yourself, a foam roller can be used in place of therapist’s hands.
Basic benefits of the roam roller are pretty great. It can eliminate muscle soreness, improve alignment and flexibility, improve thoracic spine mobility, enhance recovery and eliminate trigger points (commonly known as knots). AMAZING!
*NOTE – Take a look at The Fit Stop App for some more comprehensive videos demonstrating how to foam roll.
Just search for ‘The Fit Stop’ in your app store
2. Stretching & Mobility
Stretching involves taking a muscle to its end range until a stretch of the muscle is achieved, in an effort to increase its resting length or reduce muscle ‘tightness’. Stretching often refers to a single muscle or group of muscles involved in a particular movement (e.g. quadriceps)
Mobility is commonly described as the range of movement that we experience at a joint. This will involve a group of muscles that interact with each other to dictate the range of motion and can involve variables such as bone structure, flexibility, trigger points, mobility & stability of surrounding joints, over-activation or inhibition of specific muscles etc.
It is important to aim to achieve adequate range of motion in order to perform all the basic movement patterns (squat, lunge, bend, push, pull etc) and at the very least the range of motion required for the training session to follow.
Of course improvements in performance and squat technique etc are awesome pros yet people often neglect to think about functionality and more specifically how functional you will be as you get older, and how functional you will be when you ARE old (not sure what age this officially happens).
MOST people who have a desk jobs tend to have weak or inhibited glutes (bum), tight calves, hip flexors, hamstrings, chests and groins. Unfortunately, tight muscles, weak gluts and core muscles are the key ingredients for poor hip position & poor posture in general (i.e., anterior or posterior tilting of the hip). As a result, people tend to have lower back pain, valgus (caving in) of the knees and other biomechanical deficiencies.
Improving the mobility in these muscle groups will help improve everyday functionality, improve this biomechanics of the body and will most definitely clean up your squat technique!! #Winning
Currently, there is an increasing concern for elders in their inability to perform simple daily tasks such as standing up from a chair, sitting down with control, maintaining balance when walking over uneven ground, carrying bag and groceries. This is due to a lack of strength training AND a lack of mobility. So don’t neglect this!
It is important to note, the placement of static stretching within your warm up is crucial.
Recent research suggests static stretching immediately before exercise may hinder strength performance and explosiveness. Thus, stretching has been placed early on in the warm up (step 2) to help out with common stiff points but to give it enough time so as not to impede on the overall objective of the warm up.
Key static stretches that are commonly implemented in a warm-up include;
Hip Flexor Stretch
*NOTE – Take a look at The Fit Stop App for some more comprehensive videos demonstrating these exercises.
Just search for ‘The Fit Stop’ in your app store
There are other exercises that can be incorporated into this section of the warm up to fire up the inactive muscles or to help joint mobility. These include:
Hip Stabilizer Activation Exercise (side): You’ll move to an exercise such as a clam shell to wake up the muscles on the outside of the hip, which help to control rotational and lateral movements of the upper leg. You’ll want to turn up the “dimmer switch” on these muscles to wake them up as you prepare to integrate them into more complex movements.
Ankle Mobility Exercise: This movement helps to improve dorsi-flexion, or the ability of the shin to move toward the foot. This is a critical component of several patterns including walking, running, sprinting, lunging, squatting, etc. Poor ankle mobility can also be a component of knee pain as well.
Squat Mobility/Patterning Exercise: You want to prepare your body for the demands of squat pattern and integrate (multiple joints working together). Your goal is to develop a range of motion and control to enable you to squat deeply.
*NOTE – Take a look at The Fit Stop App for more comprehensive videos demonstrating these exercises.
Just search for ‘The Fit Stop’ in your app store to download, and go to ‘instructional videos’ then the ‘stretching’ and ‘mobility’ tabs.
Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll go over how to activate or ‘fire up’ commonly under-active or weak muscles – like your glutes!
By: Katrina Laczoffy
Fit Stop Personal Trainer