The dreaded warm up. So many options to choose from. Do you just stretch out for a little bit, go for a short jog to get the blood flowing, or jump right into your workout? Do you feel like you don't know what your warm up should consist of or why you're doing it in the first place? You're not alone. We all try to warm up because we know it's good for us. It keeps us injury free and boosts performance if done correctly but that's just the problem, most of us aren't warming up as well as we could be.
Foam rolling is a very useful tool to begin a proper warm up. When a muscle feels tight, most people think it needs to be stretched out. This is not necessarily true. In most cases the muscle is not shorter than usual, it is our brain perceiving a feeling of stretch in that muscle. Have you ever gone into the gym feeling like your hamstrings would explode if you tried to touch the floor? But after a few minutes of foam rolling your hamstrings they felt back to normal? The foam rolling didn't lengthen your hamstring muscle, it simply gave the brain new input through nerves in the area that allowed the brain to relax it's grip on the muscles. The brain is the boss and decides how much range of motion you can move through. Many people make the mistake of spending too long foam rolling. Each body part only needs between 30 seconds - 2 minutes of rolling; any more than that has diminishing returns.
After we have decreased the perception of stretch it is time to use that new range of motion. I recommend performing what we call 'resets'. A reset is a movement that is typically in a direction that we do not move in a lot throughout our day. Similar to the foam rolling, this give the brain a new or novel stimulus. Our brains love new input the way the Cookie Monster loves cookies; it makes us feel good! More importantly, it makes our brains feel safe. Like I said before the brain is the big boss and we need to keep it happy in order to move pain-free and perform well. Our brains control all movement, once the brain feels safe it is ready to perform optimally. A great example of a reset is a chin tuck; we spend most of our day looking at screens in a forward head posture. Performing the opposite motion (chin tucking) gives our brain a new stimulus, which helps keep the brain feeling threat free. Resets work best when they are tailored to your individual needs and the stresses of the workout you will be performing.
Now we get into stretching to further utilize the range of motion. Static stretching before your workout is a ritual that seems to have been passed down since the dawn of time. But is it the right type of stretching? Research points towards no. Studies have shown that static stretching actually decreases performance. Static stretching caused people to lift less weight, run slower, and have decreased jump height when performed right before their workout. This means we have to go back to the drawing board. Instead, give dynamic stretching a try in your next warm up. Dynamic stretching works by moving your joints through their range of motion actively as well as raising your body temperature, which helps to prepare the body for the demands of your workout.
An added bonus to improve your workout performance is to add explosive, power-based movements directly beforehand. All it takes is a few sets of explosive exercises such as med ball slams, resisted sprints, or jumps to improve performance abilities. They essentially ramp up your central nervous system to prepare you for the activity ahead. Make sure they're specific to what you're about to do to get the best bang for your buck.
If you have any questions about what resets/movements are right for you and want a tailored warm-up to keep you feeling great, check in with us and learn more.