The Warm Up
Warm-ups are a significant part of a performance program. Warm up’s are not just about increasing your body temperature anymore, they are about physically preparing your body for optimal training so you can train at your absolutely best. A lot a people don’t appreciate what a warm-up can do and how it can improve your overall performance. Warm up’s are a great place to get some “extra” reps of practice in. You can replicate the movement patterns you’re doing in the gym or on the sporting field, and the more often you can do a skill or a movement, the better you’re going to be at that skill or movement. Gone are the days of the old warm-up where athletes would just run a lap of the field/court/pitch thyen do some static stretching for 5 minutes and then jump straight into training. Or if you’re a lifter on squat day, just grabbing an empty bar/light weight and jumping straight into some light squats.
Now, warm up’s don’t have to be long and drawn out especially if you are time poor, but it doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t warm up properly. After and effective warm up you should feel primed and ready to go, it should prepare you to get the most out of the training session. You can get a really effective warm-up done in 10 to 15 minutes (if your short on time you can even get them done in 5 minutes). When developing an effective warm-up, it’s important to be as specific as possible. You want to make your warm-up is specific to the training session you’re just about to complete. For example, if you’re a field-based athlete, and you have to run, jump, sprint, throw, accelerate, change direction, then you want to make sure you have these elements in your warm-up. The same can be said for a strength sport athlete doing a squat session, you want to make sure your warm-up is tailored around getting prepared to squat heavy in that session. For both athletes, it’s paramount that whatever they’re doing in their warm-up that it is going to prepare them to get the absolute most out of the training session.
How to structure a warm-up
There are many different ways to structure a warm up, however, here is a template we use at Ludus Sports Performance:
1.Self Myofascial Release (SMR) – SMR includes Foam rolling, trigger balls, tiger tails any tool used for self massage. SMR in warm up shouldn’t be aggressive you aren’t necessarily trying to make permanent specific changes, rather what you want to achieve is reduced tone in tight muscles (side note: tone is how “switched on” a muscle is, which can create a “tight” feeling). For example, if your sport requires alot of running/sprinting, you need to make sure that you have adquate hip extension (leg going behind you), so you can generate force through a full range of motion and run faster/for longer. Although, if you sit a lot, you might have tight hip flexors and quads, to restore the proper ranges of motions for running you’ll need to unglue these muscles with SMR. A simple approach to SMR is to start from the ground and work your way up the body. Start at your feet, work up to the calves, hamstrings, quads, groins, glutes, and upper back. If you’re really tight in your upper body as well, you can also hit the chest and the lats. Ideally you only want to spend 30 seconds per limb, per body part or a total three minutes at the start of your training session.
2. Mobility – Mobility in this context means to be able to freely achieve full range of motion in required movement patterns. For example, to achieve a full depth squat you need adequate ankle joint range of motion. If you’re ankles are restricted, you can implement mobility drills to restore proper range motion, such drills include the wall calf stretch and banded ankle distraction. If you don’t have any specific joint restrictions you can do more global mobility drills such as downward dog and the world’s greatest stretch which are great because they promote full body mobility. In most cases choose two to three mobility drills, ideally focusing on the areas that you are most tight. .
3. Activation – Activation is kind of the opposite to SMR in that you are trying to turn up certain muscle tone. The purpose of activation is to improve movement patterns by making sure the correc t muscles are firing at the right time. The most commone muscle group that we are trying to “turn up” is the glutes and hip rotators. These muscles are very important for most athletes as they are apart of many athletic movements – running, jumping, cutting, throwing, squatting, deadlifting etc. They also play a critical role in injury prevention, as weak glutes can be a common factor in many injuries. Instead of just adding it into your training program and lengthening out your session, you can add glute activation drills to your warm-up. Now your getting a two-for-one deal, where you’re getting some injury prevention training and we’re warming up at the same time. A few examples of glute activation drills are – glute bridges (double and single leg), banded lateral walks, and wall sprinter drills. You can also do the same thing up the chain for the shoulder, basically the shoulder and hip are very similar joints and have similar structures. The rotator cuff and upper back muscles are generally the muscles we are trying to activate in the shoulder. Great exercises to activate these muscles are banded pull-aparts, face pulls, and cable internal and external rotations. Another area you can activate, but is not always necessary for everyone is your core. Because your core joins the upper body to the lower body, it can help stabilize the hips and the shoulders while warming up that mid-section. Activation exercises can include planks, dead bugs, bird dogs, and side planks. You can complete one exercise for each body area i.e. glute bridges, face pulls, dead bugs or focus on one area only to bring up a weak muscle group.
4. Dynamic movements – Dynamic movements build on your mobility and activation work by using the specific postures and movements that will be required in your training session. This acn also include technical drills. For example, if you want to improve your running mechanics, you can throw in different types of running drills and different types of dynamic range of motion exercises. These drills may include, leg kicks, walking lunges w/ overhead reach, walking single leg dead lifts, A-skip, B-skip, and technical running. These drills will have the added benefit of increases your heart rate and body temperatue while also drilling the body to hit strong mechanical positions which translate to your on-field running. You can honestly do the same thing here with squats, deadlifts, bench press, any of your lifting movements. You might just choose a piece of an exercise to warm up, or even just an empty bar, and that can be your dynamic variation warm-up. Most warm up will finish here, which is perfectly fine, you will be prepared enough to start training, although we add in one more element that really takes the warm up another level.
5. Primers – Primers are exercises that really rev up the central nervous system and get your brain stimulated and ready for fast, explosive movements in the gym or on the field. These can include; jumping/plyometrics, throwing, sprinting, and change-of-direction exercises. Adding these exercises to the end of a warm up is very effective for developing speed, power and explosiveness as you are relatively fresh yet prepared to move fast! Primers also help your body prepare for strength work as you are tapping into important fast twitch muscle fibres used for heavy weight training.
That’s a simplified structure of a warm-up but this is a great way to start. All of this can be done in an efficient and effective way, remember to keep your warm up around ten to fifteen minutes in length and longer and your wasting time (your warm up should not be longer than your workout). Even if you’re short on time, it’s still a good idea to get some kind of warm-up in because this will accumulate over time. These reps that you think are insignificant can actually build up over time, especially if you’re warming up before every single training session. These reps will pay dividends in the long run.