Better Your Workout: The Ultimate Warm-Up

Learn how to Better Your Workout in this series with Strongertmr Training

In the Better Your Workout series, I teach you how to improve your workout and performance

In the first of Strongertmr Training’s Better Your Workout series, we will be learning about how to properly warm-up. I will be going through the science and fundamentals on how to warm up before your workouts in order to make it more effective and efficient. This can also help with training longevity by keeping you healthy and mobile.

INTRODUCTION

If you go to the gym long enough, you will have noticed people who come in, static stretch for a few seconds and then blast off on the treadmills or weights. They might do some barbell curls first, followed by some bench press, then maybe some legs. There is little to no structure to their workouts. This might even be you! This can be detrimental over the long run. Having a good structure or plan in place can better your workouts. Here are some reasons why:

  • Following a proper structured workout means that you have a proven plan/routine in place. This makes it easier for you to be consistent and to gauge your progress better. Furthermore, consistency in the long run can lead to better results.
  • Having an effective and well thought out structure such as incorporating the proper warm up and cool down protocol can help you improve performance and reduce the chance of injury. All of which will increase your longevity in training.
  • Understanding exercise order and principles can help you progress more effectively and efficiently.

Let’s go through how I structure a warm up for myself and my trainees. The principles I use to do this are also based on some fundamental principles of exercise and by some models of training by ACE and NSCA.

Photo: Absolute Rehab Centre

THE ULTIMATE WARM-UP

Breaking It Down

A. Self Myofascial Release

B. Dynamic Stretching/Mobility Drills

C. Activation

D. Getting Warm

Warm-ups are classified as movements that precede your exercise routine. So it doesn’t just refer to stretching a little before your training session. The main purpose of the warm up is to prepare our body to exercise. Some physiological changes that occur to do this include

  • Increase body temperature [1]
  • Release muscle tension & stiffness [2]
  • Increase HR to a workable rate [3]

More importantly, the benefits of properly warming up include:

  • Faster muscle contraction and relaxation [4]
  • Improvements in the rate of force development and reaction time [5]
  • Improvements in muscle strength and power [6] [7]
  • Reduce the potential for injury [2]
  • Decrease risk of cardiovascular accidents [3]
  • More mentally focused on training [3]

A study on athletes showed that warming up helped improve their sporting performance by up to 79%! [8] Why would you want to skip out on so much potential in performance by not warming up properly! So let’s take a look at some of the components of our ultimate warm-up protocol.

Foam Rolling is great! Especially if you have a desk bound job.

A. Self Myofascial Release (SMR)

SMR is a technique where we apply pressure onto tight and restrictive areas of fascia and the muscle underneath. We can do this by utilising foam rollers and applying some foam rolling techniques. This is done to try and release tension and improve our flexibility. [9]

Some research has been done to show that there are positive benefits to foam rolling. For example, research done by Macdonalds and his associates in 2013 has found that SMR led to significant increased knee joint ROM in young male athletes. [10] It also did not impede their performance. Do note that the current research on SMR techniques is not conclusive and more research can be done to validate the long term benefits of SMR and foam rolling.

Anecdotally, I use the foam roller extensively with my trainees and they have all found it very helpful. Most of them have reported and demonstrated better flexibility, mobility and less pain. Of course, this was also coupled with the proper strengthening exercises and development of better postural habits.

Practical Tips: Start incorporating SMR into your workout routine. This does not have to be very long. Keep it short and focused. Target the muscles that you are going to utilise in your workout and/or some of the tighter muscles you might have on that particular day.

Check out the video below to learn some effective Foam Rolling techniques and guidelines which can be used in your warm up protocol.

Check out some Upper Body and Lower Body Foam Rolling exercises!

B. Dynamic Stretching /Mobility Drills

Dynamic stretches also referred to as mobility drills [5] are controlled movements through a full range of motion. This is unlike static stretching where you hold a stretch in a specific position for a period of time. Research has shown that dynamic stretches are most suitable for warming up. [11] Other studies have also shown that dynamic stretching prior to exercise is better for increasing core and muscle temperature, elongating muscle, stimulating the nervous system and decreasing the potential for injuries. [12]

On the other hand, static stretching has been shown in some studies to decrease power performance [13], force production [14], running speed [15], reaction/movement time [6] and strength endurance [16].

Practical Tips: If you’ve been doing static stretching prior to your workouts, it’s time to make the small adjustment to do dynamic stretching instead. Personally, I go through a fixed full body mobility routine with my trainees every single time we train. This makes it easier for them to remember the exercises and to be consistent. Similar to our SMR tips, we also want to target the muscles that we are utilising along with any tight muscles that we might be having issues with.

Check out the video below to learn some effective Mobility drills and guidelines which can be used in your warm up protocol.

Check these mobility drills out!

C. Activation

Next, we want to start to activate some of our supporting muscles which includes the core and rotator cuff muscles. Being able to properly activate these muscles are a keystone in programming under the ACE model [9]. It is important for a trainee to know how to and to have good stability of their lumbar spine and scapular-thoracic region before moving on to loaded training. This will allow trainees to handle load better and with proper technique which can help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance [9]. I include this segment in every workout in order to reinforce this concept and also steadily strengthen these muscles without spending too much time on them.

This is under the assumption that trainees have already gone through this activation phase of training. If they have not, and have overly weak core and upper back muscles, they might have to work on this first before moving on to more advanced training stimulus.

Firstly, we work on activation of the core –This include muscles of your lumbo-pelvic region, hips, abdomen and lower back. This can help with issues like lower back pain and reduce the risk of injury if there is delayed activation. Some easy activation exercises include:

  • Glute Thrusts variations
  • Plank variations

Anti-Rotational core exercises are great for improving core stability too! Check out some of the exercises here or if you want to learn more, check out the full article here. I personally like most plank variations and pallof holds/presses for activation.

Here are some anti rotational exercises for you to try out!

Activating the scapulothoracic region – This includes the muscles of the rotator cuff and upper back. Improving stability will also help with the mobility of the shoulder joint. So we want to start conditioning the rotator cuff muscles and teach/remind it how be in a packed shoulder position (retraction and depression). Some good exercises to do this include…

  • Band pull aparts
  • Face pulls
  • Wall angels
  • Is, Ys, Ts
Band Pullaparts are a great way to strengthen and activate your scapulothoracic muscles!

This has been highly beneficial for most of my clients who are office based workers and have some issues with lower back and shoulder pain. This is also great for everyone in general as the core and rotator cuff are highly important stabilising muscles and some common injuries are lower back pain [17] and shoulder impingement [18].

Photo: Mapmyrun

D. Getting Warm

Lastly, I would include a light cardio based warm-up to break into a sweat. The main focus here is to increase the heart rate, blood flow, deep muscle temperature, respiration rate and perspiration. [19]

You can plan your warm ups to suit your needs and logistics (equipment and space available). This can be as simple as 5 minutes of slow aerobic activity such as a short run, jog or cycle. For many of my trainees, I’d like for them to improve their proficiency at moving, so I have a preference athletic drills such as forward-backward runs, lateral shuffles, butt kicks, high knees or dynamic Animal Flow type movements for their warm-up. Other favourites also include a short 1 – 2 minute ride on the assault bike when there’s little space in the gym.

For athletes, you can perform a specific warm-up which utilises sport specific movements or movements similar to those of your sport. [20]

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES:

  • The total warm-up session should last from 10-20 minutes
  • It should gradually increase in intensity and be of sufficient intensity. This is so that muscle and core temperature can increase without producing fatigue and reducing energy stores. [21]
  • The main workout should start no more than 15 minutes after completion of the warm-up. If not, the benefits of the warm-up starts to fade. [7]

CONCLUSION

If you have not been doing a thorough warm-up like the above, you might be missing out on a lot of potential progress and performance. However, if you invest your time to start on a proper warm-up routine, you can add a lot to your mobility, stability, performance and also have more pain free training. Try it out for a while and see the changes! Let me know how you feel after.

In part 2 of the Better Your Workout series, we will work on how to properly structure and plan for your Core and accessory exercises in order to maximise performance and results. See you all in the next one and don’t forget to train, hustle & grind!

Reference

  1. Shellock, F., & Prentice, W. (1985). Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sport Medicine Journal, 267-278.
  2. Schnitzer, C., & Trela, P. (2012). Communicating the value of warm-up, cool down and stretching. Changing the Way We Age, 7-11.
  3. Mackenzie, B. (2000). Warm Up and Cool Down. Retrieved from Brian Mac Sports Coach: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/warmup.htm
  4. Hoffman, J. Physiological Aspects of Sports Training and Performance, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 156, 2002
  5. Asmussen, E, Bonde-Peterson,F,and Jorgenson, K.Mechano-elastic properties of human muscles at different temperatures.Acta Physiol Scand 96:86-93,1976.
  6. Bergh, U, and Ekblom, B. Influence of Muscle Temperature on maximal strength and power output in human muscle. Acta Physiol Scand 107:332-337, 1979
  7. Enoka, RM. Neuromechanics of Human Movement. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 267-294, 2004.
  8. Fradkin, A., Zazryn, T., & Smoliga, J. (2010, January 24). PubMed US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis.:
  9. Comana, F. (2014). Functional Programming for Stability-Mobilty and Movement. In C. X. Bryant (Ed.), American Council of Exercise Personal Trainer Manual (5th ed., pp. 263-303). San Diego, CA2014: ACE.
  10. MacDonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, et al. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(3):812‐821.
  11. Tollison, T. (2007). Static vs. Dynamic Flexibility. Brian Mackenzie’s Successful Coaching, 8-9.
  12. Frederick, G. (2001). Basetball Part 1 Dynamic Flexibility. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 21-30.
  13. Cornwell , A, Nelson, AG, and Sidaway, B. Acute effects of stretching on the neuromechanical properties of the triceps surae muscle complex. Eur J Appl Physiol 86:428-434. 2002.
  14. Behm, DG, Button, DC, and Butt, JC. Factors affecting force loss with prolonged stretching. Can J Appl Physiol 26:261-272, 2001.
  15. Fletcher, IM, and Jones, B. The effect of different warm-up stretch protocols on 20 meter sprint performance in trained rugby union players. J Strength Cond Res 18:885-888, 2004
  16. Nelson, AG, Kokkeonen, J, and Arnall, DA. Acute muscle stretching inhibits muscle strength endurance performance. J Strength Cond Res 19:338-343, 2005.
  17. Hoy D,  Brooks P,  Blyth F, et al. The epidemiology of low back pain, Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol, 2010, vol. 24 (pg. 769-81)
  18. Michener LA, McClure PW, Karduna AR. Anatomical and biomechanical mechanisms of subacromial impingement syndrome. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 2003;18(5):369–79.
  19. deVries, HA, and Housh, TJ, Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education, Athletics and Exercise Science. 5th Ed. Dubuque, IA: Brown, 1995.
  20. Young, WB and Behm, DG. Should static stretching be used during a warm up for strength and power activities? Strength Cond J 24:33-37, 2002/
  21. McArdle, WD, Katch, FI, and Katch, VL. Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition and Human Performance. 6th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 574-575, 2007.

Author: Leon Tan, CSCS

I'm a certified Fitness Coach with a degree in Sports Science. I am passionate in Health, Fitness and helping people become a better version of ourselves.

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