The Essential Warm-up Guide
The warm-up does much more than simply getting the heart rate up and increasing body temperature. While these are two very important characteristics to get going before training, the warm-up is too important to simply generalize. Doing 5-minutes of low-intensity bike or treadmill work followed by a few static stretches won’t get the job done. Instead, use the warm-up as an opportunity to enhance the workout and overall movement quality.
In our programs at State of Fitness, we have specific goals that we need to accomplish during our warm-up. In short, it is our goal with our warm-up to improve overall movement and prepare the body for higher-intensity movements.
- Increase tissue temperature (which enhances the muscular system)
- To prepare the central nervous system (CNS)
- To “prime” and improve mobility
- To rehearse and improve overall movement patterns
- To activate certain muscles to improve stability
More specifically here are reasons why these are so important.
1.Increase tissue temperature (which enhances the muscular system)
Whenever I think of this part of the warm-up it takes me back to when I played sports in my youth. Before a practice or a game, we never just jumped into it. We ramped it up with a proper warm-up or drills to get us sweating. Even as a youngster I could feel the value of getting my heart rate up and breaking a sweat before battle. I would feel more mobile and flexible and have more vigor.
Later I would see why this worked so well. When you increase core body temperature you also improve muscle tissue extensibility. This, in turn, enhances movement and performance. Muscles can contract more rapidly and move more dynamic with higher tissue temperature. Just about any descent warm-up can do this so it’s hard to get this wrong.
2. To prepare the central nervous system (CNS)
The Central Nervous System is so important for movement that I don’t even have the proper education to dissect it. The CNS is an amazing system that controls just about everything in our body. In order for someone to optimize movement, the CNS needs to get fired up. The better you can get the CNS going, the better your movement will be.
For years I have been someone who likes to workout right when they wake up. On at least 3-days of the week, I set my alarm for 3:50 am and shoot to start my workout no later than 4:30 am. A good dose of caffeine helps me get the CNS going that’s for sure, but that just seems to get my mind going. Once I start to warm-up and get a sweat going, the body starts to wake up. Then when I start to either throw a medicine ball, jump some rope or roll and crawl on the ground I can feel my body preparing for the lifting to come. If I just rolled out of bed and started swinging a bell in my basement, I don’t think my body or mind would be ready.
This feeling happens because a proper warm-up can increase the sensitivity of our nerve receptors and increase the speed of the nervous system impulses. It’s the communication tool between the nervous system and the muscular system prior to the workout.
3. To “prime” and improve mobility
For the past 5-10 years, the word mobility has been the hot topic in the warm-up sector of working out. Just like anything in life it seems we go from doing none of this at all (my bodybuilding days), to do a little too much. But it seems like we have gotten ahold of the whole mobility thing.
That being said it is extremely important. In my experience with performing the Functional Movement Screen on hundreds of clients, lack of mobility in the ankle, hip, and thoracic spine pop up the vast majority of the time. So, enhancing and improving mobility is something we all need a little bit more of. It’s the main reason why we warm-up, to improve range of motion. If we want to squat that day, we will need to enhance our ability to squat and that is where mobility work comes in. it helps get synovial fluid into the joint lubricating it thus helping us to move better.
4. To rehearse and improve overall movement patterns
I feel this is the most important part of the warm-up. It covers a lot of bases and helps a variety of factors such as mobility, CNS and tissue temperature. It also gets the body and mind connected to the movement ahead. We can use low-level loads and intensity of certain movements to help improve that movement.
Let’s take the deadlift. If we are doing deadlifts that day I like to start with some basic hip-hinge movements with no load, say a good morning. Then hop over to a light kettlebell deadlift. Then on to the bar with a low-load on it. By the time we are ready to crank up some weight, the body already has primped the pump to lift with solid form.
Take a basketball player. Even if you are a three-point shooting expert, you need to start out shooting a little closer. As you rehearse the flick of the wrist and the release of the ball, you prepare the body to shoot a little further. The same goes for lifting weights, running, and cycling.
5. To activate certain muscles to improve stability
In this part of the warm-up, I want to wake up certain muscles that commonly seem to be deficient. Most of our daily habits require sitting a lot and performing poor posture. So, I want to take the opportunity in the workout to ignite a flame on these sleepy muscles. The glutes, middle back, and core musculature could all use some extra attention in the workout. In the warm-up, we can utilize remedial exercises to help train these muscle to work a little better. Some may see this as rehab or may shun off exercises like band walks, glute bridges, and band pull-aparts since compound movements will do the job.
On a personal note, I have experienced tremendous benefits from muscle activation exercises. In the past two years, I have had two hip surgeries and 2 herniated discs. I can tell a dramatic difference when I include glute exercises and Stu McGill (leading spine researcher) core type protocols into my routine. If I skip them, my body will let me know.
In essence, all of this essentially helps us to increase performance and reduce the risk of injury. In order to do this, we need to cover a lot of bases. A warm-up will take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. This may seem like a long time but the warm-up is the workout. It should start out with an intensity that is fairly low and ends with something that excites the bodies systems and gets you going.