How do you warm up?
For years, many athletes have been taught to perform a thorough static stretching routine before engaging in training, practice, or competition. You may have seen this – Coach yells to his team, “go warm up!” They jog a lap around the field, then commence to circle up (standing and/or sitting) and perform a series of static hamstring, quads, hip, calf, and tricep stretches while sharing the gossip of the day between when they are counting fast to 10 . While static stretches can help to improve flexibility, they do not aid in adequately preparing the body for the rigors of athletic performance and competition. More recently, a significant amount of research has shown that performing a proper dynamic warm-up before activity is a much better route to optimizing performance than simply static stretching. A proper dynamic warm up has many physiological benefits:
- Increases core body temperature
- Increase blood flow to the muscles
- Stimulates the nervous system and activates muscle groups
- Improves joint mobility and flexibility
- Increases coordination and balance
- Reinforces proper movement patterns
- Decreases risk of injury (due to all of the above mentioned)
So what do I believe your dynamic warm up should include (regardless of your sport or activity)? Good question! Here is the approach I use when developing dynamic warm up programs for the athletes and clients I work with. I recommend choosing 4-5 exercises from each category, in categorical order as listed below:
- Neuromuscular activation exercises: First, we want to get your stabilizer muscles firing. This includes activating the core musculature surrounding your torso (anterior, posterior, and lateral aspects), rotator cuff, and muscles around the hips. The key here is small, controlled movements against gravity or a light resistance. Examples of great neuromuscular activation exercises for a warm up include: planks and side planks with small movements, bridging, bird dogs, dead bugs, slow bear crawling, rotator cuff isometrics, and anti-rotation/anti-motion exercises utilizing resistance tubing/bands/cables.
- Mobility/flexibility exercises: Next, add in exercises geared towards promoting and improving range of motion. These exercises utilize controlled movements (both single- and multi-joint) working through functional ranges of motion while requiring a low level of strength. Examples of great mobility and flexibility exercises for in your warm up include: hamstring pumps, bridging with knee hugs and/or marches, thoracic rotations on all 4’s, hip circles/rotations, shoulder diagonals/circles, back scratchers, ankle rocking, and standing knee hugs.
- Dynamic movement preparation: Now that you are “activated” and your joints have been oiled, it’s time to work on your functional movement patterns through exercises that combine strengthening, stabilization, and mobility/flexibility-improvement through all planes of motion. These exercises begin to work up your sweat level, requiring a greater level of skill, muscle contraction, and coordination than the first two categories. Examples of dynamic functional exercises include: inch worms, world’s greatest stretch with rotation (see picture above), forward/backward/lateral lunges with reaching, single leg RDLs (can add in ankle grab with this), push-up and rowing variations, and mini-band walking.
- “Build up”: Now it is time to ramp it up if your planned activity involves power, speed, or agility drills or athletic competition (if you are simply doing a weight training session, you can skip this step). The final step is preparing your nervous and muscular systems for higher speed, more complex athletic movements. By this point, your body is be prepared to start moving fast. Examples of great “build up” exercises include: quick hops/quick drops, jumping jack variations, backwards running, push shuffle, carioca, skipping variations, and sprinting.
Going through a warm up in this manner should take anywhere from 10-20 minutes, depending on your level of conditioning and the activity you are preparing for. The great thing about this approach to warming up is that you can modify the exercises within each category around any restrictions or limitations placed upon you by a healthcare professional if you are dealing with an injury. Also, if you have a specific flexibility concern, some static stretching to improve your individual limitations can be added as needed after completing your dynamic warm up. For the most part, save your static stretches for your cool down following your training.
Now go get your body fired up. Here’s a video example of the above components
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Ryan Stevens, MPS, LAT/ATC, CSCS