How To Optimize Your Warm-up

Remember in high school when you would sit on the gym floor organized into lines of ten, and the gym coach would walk by the rows and take the role? I remember like it was yesterday! Gym was my favorite class (makes a lot of sense, right?!?!). After that, they would have you stand up, do 10-20 jumping jacks followed by some useless toe touch hamstring stretches. This was just enough time for them to get the cage of balls to roll out and unleash the craziness of gym class. Man, I miss those days!


Fast forward down the road post high school, and you probably took the same approach to your workout warm-ups, thinking it was doing you good. Shucks, you may have even done some extra stretching (3 whole minutes) before working out to make sure you were ready.


I hate to break it to you, but that’s not a warm-up. At least not one that is going to be beneficial.


If you want to optimize your workouts and get the most out of them, you need to give the warm-up, gasp, and cool down its due diligence. Here’s why warming up prepares the body physically and mentally for the day’s training.


On the physical side, warm-in up allows time for the blood circulated to your vital organs to be slightly diverted and better allocated to the periphery and muscles. This diversion of blood supply allows the muscles to warm-up due to more blood volume and heat generated through movement. It also allows your heart rate to gradually increase, which sets off a cascade of physical responses, including glucose release into the bloodstream for ready consumption for the muscles to do work better.


Additionally, a proper warm-up primes the nervous system. Which may be the coolest part (at least to me) of how the body responds to warming-up. ln less than a blink of an eye, your nervous system can shift from cruising through your day like a mini-van into a high powered sports car. Pretty cool huh?!?!?! This is the reason you hear stories of moms lifting cars off babies. But to maximize the process, taking time to warm-up is key to reducing injury.


Finally, warming-up up and mobilizing help prime the range of motion used in the workout. This helps reduce strain on the muscles and connective tissues and is how it helps reduce injury. But did you know that when you’re warming up, you are helping to prime the movement patterns and increase your performance? That’s right! When you go through the movements as part of your specific warm-up, you are reminding yourself of the movement patterns. The brain is subconsciously rolling through all the experience you have with that movement and starts to look for the optimal movement patterns successful in the past. Pretty amazing how the connection between the brain and the body works. And oh… if you want to optimize that connection, you should consider regular chiropractic adjustments to keep the superhighway of the nervous system, the spine, in proper alignment.


As a review, you will want to properly warm-up and mobilize to get the most out of your workouts. Now let’s get into the way you carry it out!


Every time you warm-up it should be specific to the workout you plan to perform. This means that how you warm-up for a longer cardio-based workout is different than how you should warm-up for a heavy deadlift day. The for steps to optimizing your warm-up are:


General Warm-up – Mobilization – Movement Specific Warm-Up – Performance Priming


Here are the details for each.


General Warm-Up: Depending on your age, training age (how long you have been doing the activity – example CrossFit), and the intensity of the workout, it is best practices to use closed chain movement patterns that increase in intensity. This period of the warm-up should last at least three minutes but no more than ten. Closed chain movements are those that are repetitive in nature and are cyclical. Examples include walking, jogging, biking, or jump rope. Once your respiration rate is elevated slightly, its time to move to the mobilization phase.


Our workouts movements can be broken down into a few broad and overacting groups like squatting, lunging, hinging, pushing, pulling, rotation, or walking. To prime these movements, we need to consider the proper range of motion compared to our range of motion. For example, a squat should find us with our hips just below the top of the knees with the feet flat on the ground. If you are just shy, then performing some foam rolling will help release some tightness in the connective tissue and muscles. Additionally, performing a Dynamic Range of Motion drills for the hips will help release some of the tightness at the end ranges you have to further increase your ability to get to the squat requirements without pain or injury.


Movement Specific Warm-up
This is particularly important for fast movements or high skill movements that can be broken down into skills and drills. Examples include the Olympic lifts of the snatch and clean & jerk. These movements require balance, agility, and coordination of body movements at specific times of the moment. A movement specific warm-up for the snatch will include all the parts of the movement. For example, the Burgener warm-up created by a top-level Olympic Weightlifting Coach, Mike Burgeneris a series of 5 drills performed 8-12 times. Each drill is added to the next. Once completed, this movement specific warm-up helps guide the athlete through the entire movement.


Performance Priming
This final step is one that I coined over the past 20 years of coaching fitness and sports. The performance priming phase is where the athletes/members get a small dose of the workout to help prepare them mentally for what is about to come. This is the period where I guide folks to the actual training. An example would look like this;


5 Rounds for time:
3 Deadlifts at 225 lbs for males and 185 for female
Run 400m
5 Strict weighted pull-ups


The performance priming phase of the warm-up would look like this if you were in my class:
Take 8-10 minutes to help slowly build to workout weight in the deadlift. While you are walking back and forth between the weight stacks and your barbell, perform 1 strict pull-up and add weight each time you come back to the pull-up bar until you are at the weight you will use for the workout. Finally, run 100 meters, followed by 1 deadlift at your workout weight and three pull-ups at your workout weight. Then grab a sip and your sweat towel, and let’s get ready to go.


There you have it, the four phases of a proper workout to increase your performance and reduce injury risk. If you don’t want to think about all that, just come to one of the classes I coach during the week, and I’ll take care of everything for you 😉



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