The Underestimated Warm Up
When everyone else is busy foam rolling, stretching or simply talking to one another, we are in the corner going through a precise routine. Some people are thorough with their warm-ups while others are simply skipping it entirely because they don’t know what to do.
In a one-hour class of 25 people it could be tricky to instruct a 20-minute warm-up. Members just want to keep moving and sweat as early as possible, sometimes at their detriment. A sweaty body doesn't equal a warmed-up body, unfortunately. It is also a misconception to believe that a warm-up is only designed for lifters. Runners, boxers, and bootcampers all need to be aware of their bodies. It's a neurological wake-up as much as it is a muscle activation. In some cases, it is also an opportunity to focus on the task at hand and become present in the moment.
Why is a warm-up crucial and how can we conduct it to enhance better performance and limit risk injuries?
When you begin to realize, the warm-up is everything
Members will usually start to pay attention to the warm-up after an injury. It was recommended that they spend more time on the joint, muscle, or area that caused pain. After a couple of weeks when everything goes back to normal and the pain has alleviated, people will ignore the warm-up and return to their old routine also known as jumping directly into the workout.
This happens frequently especially during a class setting. After all, the coach is the one who is supposed to be preparing us for the exercises to come. This is where we are wrong. The coach instructs a generic warm-up routine applicable for everyone and not one individual.
It is our duty to take care of our bodies, because we are the only ones who are aware of its history, flexibility and mobility (see article here), and past injuries. It doesn't matter the level of training, we cannot expect to do any type of activity if we are not giving our bodies the necessary tools to move efficiently.
After a warm-up, we should feel as if we had done a mini-workout. We are sweaty, our heart rate is elevated, and we have rehearsed the completion of movements that we will be performing during the upcoming workout. In short, our muscles have started to ache and are prepared for more intensity.
If we are having a hard time believing that a warm-up is supposed to be more than a couple of static stretches such as a standing quadriceps stretch, then perhaps we should call it a workout preparation contributing to better performances and therefore results.
What people think an efficient warm-up is and what it is in reality
The example of Brian Carroll in the book Gift of Injury he wrote with Dr. Stuart Mc Gill is the perfect convincing example that no one is too good or too cool to warm-up. Carroll is an elite American powerlifter who at the time he was diagnosed with severe back pain by Mc Gill, was back squatting over 1000lbs (454kgs), deadlifting over 800lbs (363kgs) at 275lbs (125kgs) bodyweight. Carroll, after he recovered successfully kept the exercises prescribed by McGill as his comprehensive warm-up: Mc Gill's Big Three (The Modified Curl-up, the Side Plank—yes plank you read that right! — and the Birddog).
In a weightlifting, Crossfit, or gym environment it is not rare to watch people directly getting into the exercises by starting with lower weights. They often believe that gradually working their way to the workout’s loads will prepare them well enough, when in fact engaging the core and upper back (lats), and getting rid of stiffness in the hamstrings in the first place contributes to a better execution of the motions.
How a warm-up can change over time and adapt
If you are new to preparing your body to a workout, it is good idea to start implementing simple routines such as the Big Threes (video below) and then adding different variations specific to your nervous system. According to Christian Thibaudeau in his article Nonstop Natural Gains: The Neuro Typing System, "The nervous system is responsible for the recruitment of muscle fibers, determining how many fibers you can stimulate to grow. It's also responsible for coordination and performance on the big lifts."
The warm-up also adapts to outside conditions like temperature and temporary stress load. Stiffness and apprehension of the workout can add tension to the body, and spending more time focusing on specific technical drills or adding an extra 10 minutes on a bike to switch to para-sympathetic mode are options to consider.
No matter the conditions, never skip the warm-up
The warm-up primes the nervous system for the workout ahead. A longer warm-up is often considered like a buzz kill or meant for older people only. It's not! Especially if the workout is short (sub 7 minutes): the shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up. Explosiveness and tension under load need to be addressed before the beginning of the workout. There is not enough time to prep the body when we are rushing from one movement to the other. Sometimes avoiding to warm-up can lead to straight up injuries.
The warm-up is boring? Good, that is the whole point, it shouldn't be challenging as it is supposed to slowly get the body to 40% of the final effort. (But then again, everyone’s approach is different).
It’s best if we know the final workout, we can prep specifically for the movements. If there is not enough consideration for a proper warm-up at the beginning of a class then don't count on it. I would advise to warm-up at home, in the locker room or in a corner of the gym. That's how important a warm-up is!
Different exercises to implement into the warm-up
Here are some examples of different movements which are in my opinion essential to a warm-up. The target is core, lower and upper body.
Mobility is addressed hours prior or after the workout and flexibility can be done right after the workout or hours after combined with mobility drills.
· Glutes: Birddog
· Lats pull downs with band
If the workout is shoulder heavy:
· 4 rounds of the Swimmer
· Very light dumbbell overhead presses
Only then should you grab a barbell or weights and start prepping or do a condensed set of the movements from the workout. At this point, if you are taking part in a class then you can join in, because you are ready.
The feeling left from a thorough warm-up is the one of non-exhaustion and fired up mentally (which implies that the nervous system is ready to function).
If you haven't yet, download your free 7 day foam rolling warm up routine
What's your favorite, go-to warm up exercise?