In Part I of this series I touched upon our distant relatives lack of preparation prior to engaging in physical activity, namely “the hunting game.” I also began to speculate whether or not warming up would have given them an extra edge in the forest, jungle, desert or whatever other landscape they roamed during their time of existence. I also pondered the idea of saying “the hell with all sports science research and training methodology,” and that perhaps it would be possible to find a way to prepare our bodies to perform at maximal effort at any given time. Well folks, it’s time to get serious and discuss the objectives of a proper warm-up, along with the positive effects it may have on preparation for athletic performance.
Warming up has 4 main objectives
- Elevate core temperature
- “Wake up” the Central Nervous System
- Move muscle and joints through full ranges of motion
- Assess current health status
When most people think about warming up, usually their first thought is jogging/walking on a treadmill for 5-20 minutes, followed by lying down on a mat in the corner of the gym and static stretching. Sadly, even with the plethora of research, which displays the lack of value in that type of protocol, it is still common practice by the majority of so-called personal trainers. The same trainers that you are likely to find in any of the gazillion health clubs that are now sweeping the globe. If you work with a “trainer” and this sounds like something he or she has you doing each time you’re scheduled to train, please do yourself a favor and fire them tomorrow, for I can’t even imagine the amount of other useless shit they have you doing. You’ll thank me later.
As stated above, warming up has four main objectives. Walking or jogging certainly accomplishes number one but fails miserably to address the remaining three. The static stretching part tackles none out of the four and actually could be detrimental to athletic performance, as research has shown an acute bout of passive muscle stretching impeding maximal force production in both isometric and concentric contractions (1,2). This may occur due to decrease in function of the stretch shortening cycle.
So, by now you may be wondering, “What exactly is the proper way to warm up?” First, we must go back to our objectives. Elevating core temperature is easy. Any type of locomotive movement done for long enough duration, taking the body away from homeostasis should be enough to elevate the temperature of your body. From a performance standpoint the elevation of core temperature may increase nerve conduction rate. This means impulses would be sent quicker throughout the nervous system which controls all movement. “Firing up” the Central Nervous System, improving the communication between your muscles, brain and spinal cord may take some additional effort. Explosive movement such as hopping and jumping exemplifies nervous system potentiation.
Moving your muscles and joints through different ranges of motion is another objective that may be met by callisthenic type of movements such as lunges, squats, rotational pushups, and inch worms as well as stretching done while in motion. This is referred to as dynamic stretching. These movements are typically all done with ones own body or light external load such as bands or medicine balls. Elevating the core temperature while moving the muscles though various ranges of motion helps to increase the viscosity of synovial fluid within the joint. Viscous consistency of joint fluid acts as a lubricant within the joint structure, which not only may add comfort to general movement, but also may help prevent injury.
Assessing your current health status is another way of saying, “getting an idea of how you feel on that particular day.” Asking yourself, “Are my hamstrings tight?” “Are my shoulders still sore from bench pressing three days ago?” Assessing your current health status gives you the opportunity to decide what changes need to be made within the day’s prescribed workout, whether or not you may need to dial down the volume and intensity of the planned session, and if time may be better spent doing regeneration type work.
All of these objectives are met through the dynamic warm-up, which goes from simple to a bit more complex, and from top to bottom (upper body to lower body), essentially preparing the entire body to perform at it’s best. The dynamic warm up is then followed by warm-up sets in the first given weight training exercise for the day, which brings the warm-up from general to specific.
by: Jason Manenkoff
Avela, J, Kyrolainen, H, and Komi, PV. Altered reflex sensitivity after repeated and prolonged passive muscle stretching. J Appl Physiol 86: 1283–1291, 1999.
Fowles, JR, Sale, DG, and MacDougall, JD. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. J Appl Physiol 89: 1179–1188, 2000.