The following post is an excerpt from one of my graduate level classes pertaining to warm ups and the importance of proper warm up protocol and techniques. I have seen far too many athletes who are missing the opportunity to practice movement and prepare themselves for high intensity work during their warm ups. Make your warm up work for you, make sure you are sweating, prepared, and ready for your workout. Build this into your routine, even if it means getting to the gym a little earlier to get it in!
In recreational athletes and general fitness enthusiasts, the warm up is one of the things that gets overlooked and most often misunderstood. In team sports and in group practices, there is a better chance that one will see a thorough warm up done. In my area of practice, I run a recreational fitness facility for a small community college and I see many of our patrons skip the warm up and go directly into their workout whether it be weight training or cardiovascular exercise. In fact, I see many guys walk directly to the bench press station and load 135 on the bar or even in some cases 225. Although the warm up may not be a very exciting aspect of a fitness program, it is a crucial component for injury prevention and improved performance.
Knudson (2012) noted the different aspects of a warm up which includes a passive warm up like sitting in a sauna or hot tub, an active warm up, and both general and specific warm ups. In my practice I use a general warm up for my clients in addition to a specific set of warm up exercises depending on the workout they will be performing. Knudson (2012) also noted the benefits of a proper warm up can include thermal, neuromuscular, and even psychological performance enhancement. From a general standpoint, most warm ups should include a basic set of movements chosen to prepare the athlete or client for the designated workout or competition, and do not include static stretching as a part of the warm up (Knudson, 2012). Through large range of motion movements and a gradual increase in core body temperature, the muscles and joints gain mobility and are better prepared for exercise.
Another reason to postpone static stretching comes from Young and Behm (2002), which cited research indicating a performance decrement of between 5 to 30% in strength followed by a bout of static stretching. In addition, individuals that ran 4 minutes prior to a vertical jump test performed better than those who ran and also performed quadriceps and gluteal stretches (Young & Behm, 2002). In my opinion, there are exceptions when certain mobility exercises should be performed prior to strength training despite any loss in performance. For example, if an athlete is experiencing mobility limitations which causes movement dysfunctions in any manner, mobility exercises should be chosen for that athlete and changes in the load selection for that workout can be made accordingly. Using myself as an example, I have an ongoing hip impingement issue I continually manage prior to squatting. Using several mobility techniques and PNF stretching techniques is the only way to perform a full range of motion squat. However, adjusting or changing the mobility and subsequent stability of the hip joint prior to squatting accompanies a decrease in the load used in training.
In my beginner’s weight training class, my personal training sessions, and any program I write, I outline my favorite and personal warm-up to be performed prior to any exercise session. By using a basic template the athlete can begin their warm up and self-assessment of their movement. When working directly with the athlete, this is also my ongoing assessment. The movements begin with very basic movement patterns and progress into more dynamic and complex movements. There are added movements based on the muscle groups being trained afterwards. The movements are listed below.
10-Arm circles forward (starting with small tight circles and gradually increase the diameter of the circle) Repetitions are counted once the athlete is at the biggest circle possible.
10- single arm circles backwards
10-arm crossovers alternating the arm on top
10-alternating arm raises to overhead (one arm up/one arm down)
10-hip circles in each direction
10- good mornings
10 leg swings against the wall (both front the back and side to side)
*Afterwards the athlete will perform the following for the length of the room (about 10 yards) and back to the starting point
Toy soldiers (I call them Frankenstein walks)-exaggerated walking leg raises trying to touch the foot to the hand on the opposite side
Golfers pick up- using the back leg held out straight to counterbalance as they lean forward like a golfer picking up a tee
Hip opener drill (I call over the fence/under the fence)- the athlete will pretend to step over an imaginary fence and then side lunge the back leg and pretend to go under the fence towards the front leg.
Hopping drill- the athlete interlocks the fingers behind their back and with the arms straight they hop the length of the room. This is a great assessment for running mechanics and core stability.
Depending on the training session that follows the warm up, the athlete may perform a few more movements specifically for their weakness in the movement. Another valuable tool is a small band placed just above the knee when doing lateral walks. The Hip Circle made by Sling Shot (Mark Bell) is a great variation of this and is very comfortable for athletes to use. If strength work is to be performed following the warm up, several sets of the movement are to be performed before loading to the starting weight. In many of the beginners weight training classes, we will perform just the warm up for the first few classes before they build the appropriate movement patterns and capacity for other workouts. Once the movements are learned and practiced, this warm-up can be performed in about 10-12 minutes.
Knudson, D. V. (2012). Warm-up flexibility. In Chandler, T. J., & Brown, L. E. (Eds.). Conditioning for strength and human performance. (166-181). Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Young, W. B. & Behm, D. G. (2002). Should static stretching be used in a warm-up for strength and power activities? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 24(6), 33-37.