By: Jason Lewis
The most mundane part of most training is the warm-up. It’s kind of like vegetables or multi-vitamins. In our culture of instant satisfaction, everybody wants to go for the meat and potatoes, or the whey protein and creatine supplements, because those are the building blocks to more muscle and power from the nutrition side. But skip the vitamins and minerals that vegetables and multi-vitamins provide, and watch your entire program fall apart.
The same can be said about warming up. Nobody wants to do it, and usually people will just do some jumping jacks, jog in place, do a little stretching, and then go right into heavy lifting or all-out performance.
That flimsy warm-up cannot only increase the chances of injury, but it will also limit athletic performance. As strength coach and ATLX Expert Robb Rogers puts it, “You can’t just go from 0-100.”
Rogers, a CSCCa Master Coach, has his athletes go through a warm-up that’s at least eight minutes long. It’s designed to allow the athlete to reach his or her athletic potential for a workout or competition.
“As you warm up, the blood flow and the temperature of the tendon becomes better, so then your elasticity becomes greater and greater,” Rogers said. “So you can perform at a higher level of speed and strength exercises, because the muscles can contract to a higher level, the nervous system is warmed up and is able to move at the highest and quickest level.”
When the body is prepared to handle its maximum load, it will achieve the greatest benefits if it’s warmed up beforehand. The person working out will see the benefits of the workout at a much faster rate. Working at the body’s maximum potential over a period of time will greatly enhance the person’s ability to achieve his or her goals.
If properly warming up will produce greater athletic performance for a given workout, which will lead to greater results over the long haul, why would anybody only spend a couple of minutes warming up before an intense workout?
Rogers points out that when a person wakes up, their body feels really sluggish. But later in the day, after a person has been moving around for a while, the body feels a lot better because it can perform simple tasks much more efficiently. A proper warm-up achieves that in just eight minutes.
The first step before a workout is a general warm-up to prepare the entire body for the workout. Then, move into more specific movements for what you are doing.
A general warm-up would include jogging, jumping jacks, running in place or on a treadmill. It gets the blood flowing throughout the body.
Next are specific movements, best achieved through dynamic stretching instead of static stretching. For decades people have used static stretching, where the person stretches the muscle and holds the movement for an extended period of time. Studies have shown that while static stretching does loosen the muscle and tendons, it also weakens them to a certain degree, which will cause performance to suffer. According to Rogers, static stretching can cause a loss of power, because it dampens your stretch reflex.
Dynamic stretching involves continuous movements that warm the muscles up. For a runner, they will be geared toward the leg muscles, with various type of stretching movements, swings, and squats. For weightlifters performing an upper body workout, dynamic stretching would include arm swings, lengthening and flexing the muscles, and performing upper body exercises with lower weights.
A foam roller, providing a self-myofacial release, can make a big difference. By rolling the muscle over the foam roller, the muscle’s soft tissue becomes much more flexible, allowing for greater athletic performance. The best time to use the foam roller is at the very beginning of the warm-up.
A proper warm-up is also crucial for injury prevention. The greatest ability that any everyday athlete has is availability. If you are hurt, you cannot perform, and you cannot get closer to your goals.
“You see older athletes that have been really powerful, but now they don’t do a whole lot,” Rogers said. “When they go out and play basketball, or something like that, they blow out their Achilles because they did not allow for that tendon to become fully warm or elastic, and it’s trying to pull both ends to the middle, and it gives way.”
As monotonous as a proper warm-up can be, it’s still vital to any workout and training program because without it, performance will suffer and the chances of an injury will skyrocket.