Articles, Body

The Often Overlooked Warm up

Arrive at gym. Check-in at the front desk.  Walk to treadmill. Start running.
Arrive at gym. Check-in at the front desk. Walk to bench press. Perform working sets of exercise.
What’s missing here? The warm up! And by “warmup” I don’t mean 3 arm circles before benching or a 5 second quad stretch and toe-touch before running.

Why should you warm up?

It took me a few years of working out before I started to value my warm up. I neglected it because 1) I didn’t know how to warm up, and 2) I “couldn’t” spare the time before hitting the weights. Not warming up all that time is probably one of the biggest reasons I acquired so many injuries, aches, and pains along the way. Here are some benefits to having a proper warm up:

  • Increases body temperature (literally warms up the body)
  • Lubricates joints
  • Engages the nervous system (did you know a lot of our strength gains are attributed to the nervous system?)
  • Muscle flexibility, extensibility, and ability to achieve a full range of motion
  • Educates the body about or solidifies proper movement patterns
  • Focuses the mind on the workout ahead
  • Brings awareness into the body
  • Prevents injuries

My weightlifting journey and how my warmups have progressed:

I’ve always believed I can do anything I put my mind to, and during my freshman year at UCLA, I decided to become a runner like my mom and what better, extreme way than to sign up for a marathon. I started training in January, running the longest distance I could, 1 mile. I ran my booty off over the next 5 months, and in June, I completed the marathon. I was a runner. Well, turns out, I can run, I just don’t like to. After finishing that marathon, I had no desire to run that much ever again. So, I started weight lifting (long tangent there, I know, I’m going to talk about warm ups now), and here I am almost 6 years later.
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At first, there were no warm ups in my routine. It wasn’t too big of a deal, I suppose, because I was 19 years old and lifting relatively low weights. As my lifts got heavier, I started including one warm up set at about 50% of my “work” weight in the first exercise of my workout. Next, I got a little crazy (hint: sarcasm) and added 3 whole minutes of cardio before embarking on my one warmup set. Then, 3-5 minutes of cardio, foam rolling, and a warmup set. Currently, I’ve cut out the cardio, and I include foam rolling/small ball rolling and 4-8 mobility drills in my warm up before some lighter sets on my first exercise (only if it’s a heavy lift).

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a great way to increase circulation and flexibility/extensibility before a workout and break up adhesions in muscle tissue. It’s a better alternative to traditional stretching (holding a static position for 30 seconds) before a workout because traditional stretching has been shown to make muscles too lax (not elastic enough) when done before resistance training and can lead to decreases in strength and greater risk of injury.

If you’ve been reading a lot of my posts, you should know by now that I’m a huge fan of Eric Cressey’s coaching and articles. Here is his video of a great foam roll/small ball rolling series to include before each workout. I do this on each side of the body (give or take some of the small ball exercises and the pec foam rolling) for 10-15 seconds per body part before each strength training workout. It may take a long time to perform for the first week or two, but eventually this becomes a pretty quick routine. One tip: to avoid placing the lower back in a bad position (excessively arched), stay on your elbows when rolling in the face down positions.

This foam rolling routine can be performed any time during the day but should be done at least once a day on workout days. I find it easiest to include in my warm up.

To read more about foam rolling and how it benefits the body, check out one of Eric Cressey’s articles here.

Mobility Drills

These are dynamic movements (meaning, they aren’t held like a traditional stretch) that target different regions of the body and various movement patterns. This is a good place to put a little work into personal deficits (for me, raising my shoulders overhead) and commonly injured areas. I tend to scour Eric Cressey’s articles for mobility drills that fit my current needs. A simple Google search of “Eric Cressey [body part] mobility” tends to bring up good exercises. I also use Kelly Starrett, Bret Contreras, Sohee Lee, and Layne Norton as resources for warm up drills.

Top areas of the body to address during warm up are:

  • Ankle Mobility  (1 of these should suffice)
    • Wall Ankle Mobilization with Adduction/Abduction
    • Rocking Ankle Mobility
  • Thoracic Spine Mobility (1-2 of these, maybe 3 if it’s a weakness or an upper body day)
    • Bench T-Spine Mobilization
    • Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion
    • Bent Over T-Spine Rotation
    • Side Lying Windmill
  • Hip Mobility (3-4 exercises)
    • Wall Hip Flexor Mobilization
    • Supine Bridge with Reach
    • Yoga Pushup
    • Spiderman with Hip lift and Overhead Reach
    • Bowler Squat
    • Alternating Lunge with Overhead reach (Hips and T-Spine)

For any of these exercises, perform 5-8 reps (per side), slow and controlled. Some other tips for efficient warm up structure: Order the exercises from those done on the floor to those done standing to those done moving and go from single-joint exercises to compound/multi-joint ones. For a faster warm up, stick to the compound drills that hit multiple joint targets, like the alternating lunge with overhead reach.

My Current Warm Up:

To be honest, I can’t take credit for it; I found it in one of Sohee Lee’s articles. It’s done wonders for keeping me injury free this last month. I’m often modifying it, though, adding and subtracting certain drills to fit my specific needs. This is a great place to start.

Screen-Shot-2012-07-06-at-9.19.46-PM1-300x222.png

A. Bird dogs X5/side

B. Rocking Ankle Mobility X5/side
(See video above)

C. Wall Hip Flexor Mobilization X8/side
(also in a video above)

D. Bent over T-spine Rotation X5/side
(video above)

E. Back to Wall Shoulder Flexion X8
(video above)

F. Glute Wall March with Iso Holds 2 X 5sec hold/side

G. Bowler Squat X5/side
(Video above)

H. Cradle walk to spiderman with hip lift and reach X5/side
(Video above)

This warmup takes 15-20 minutes, and by the time I’m finished, I’m sweaty, mobile, and ready to kick ass with my lifts.

For more reading about warm ups check out Eric Cressey’s 6 Characteristics of a Good Dynamic Warm-up.

What is your warm up? Let me know if you give mine a try!

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