Monday, September 9, 2013

Treadmill + Stretching ≠ Warm-up

How many times have you raced into the gym amped up for a workout, forgone any type of warm-up whatsoever, hit the heavy weights, and then tweaked something? 

Whether we're pressed for time, lazy, or just plain don't think we need it, we're all guilty of inadequate warm-up from time to time. As a matter of fact, those of us who warm up with five minutes of static stretching and walking on the treadmill are guilty of inadequate warm-up every time.

Resistance training is inherently risky business. In order to reduce that risk, mobility, stability, and reactivity are obligatory before we get anywhere near a squat rack. Sure, walking and stretching increase core temperature and passive joint range of motion. However, an effective warm-up must include much more.

Pre-workout stretching does not constitute warm-up!Photo courtesy:

By definition, a warm-up should take a body that's cold and sedentary -- as well as a mind that's faraway -- and transform it into one that's capable of and focused on repeatedly moving max loads at high velocities across great distances. Warm-up should also be gradual, beginning with gentle movements and progressing to more vigorous, sweat-inducing ones. 

Let's take a look at the five phases of the Pollenator Warm-up.

Phase 1: Foam rolling [3 minutes]
  • Upper and low back (:30)
  • Glutes (buttocks) (:30)
  • Hamstrings (back of thigh) (:30)
  • Anterior quads (front of thigh) (:30)
  • Lateral quads (side of thigh) (:30)
  • Adductors (inner thigh) (:30)

Warm-up is as much about preparing the mind as it is about preparing the body. The best way to get in the zone is to establish a good routine.

In Phase 1, we make foam rolling the first thing we do every time we walk into the gym. Simultaneously therapeutic and painful, foam rolling is essentially self-massage. The goal is to improve tissue quality by reducing trigger points (the sensitive areas we encounter when rolling), thereby increasing the range of motion of our joints.

Phase 2: Dynamic stretching [3 minutes] [6 minutes]
  • Thoracic spine mobility (:30 per side)
  • World's greatest stretch (1:00, alternating sides)
  • Wall slides (1:00)

Phase 2 focuses on active flexibility, or mobility – the ability of our muscles to move our joints through their full ranges of motion. Through dynamic stretching, w
e seek to improve the mobility of a few key segments – namely, the thoracic spine (upper back), hips, and ankles.

As compared to the long holds, often done in a seated position, that characterize static stretching, dynamic stretching is performed for reps, often while load-bearing. It more authentically mimics the activity to come without inhibiting strength and power like static stretching does.

Phase 3: Muscle activation [1 minute] [7 minutes]
  • Mini-band hip shuttle (:30)
  • Mini-band march (:30)

Phase 3 wakes up dormant muscles so that their synergists (helper muscles) don't have to work overtime to compensate. When the glutes don't pull their weight in hip extension, the hamstrings take over, which can result in a pulled muscle. To activate the glutes, we use the hip shuttle. Similarly, when the deep hip flexors turn off, we substitute lumbar flexion for hip flexion. That is, we bend at the low back instead of at the waist. To activate the hip flexors, we march.

Phase 4: Movement rehearsal [2 minutes] [9 minutes]
  • Unilateral hip hinge and reach (:30 per side)
  • Hand-release push-ups (:30)
  • Squats (:30)

Phase 4 prepares the entire body for the basic movements it will encounter in the workout. The single leg hip hinge enhances balance and proprioception and dynamically stretches the hamstrings, while the squat continues to loosen up the hips. The reach and hand release portions of the hip hinge and the push-up serve to pull the shoulder blades down and back – the ideal position for posture as well as most lifts. Reps are kept low here, and loads are limited to bodyweight only.

Phase 5: Central nervous system wake-up [1 minute] [10 minutes]
  • Pogo jumps (:30)
  • Bear crawl (:30)

The intensity of the warm-up peaks in Phase 5 with a plyometric (pogo jumps) as well as a primal movement for loading up the shoulders (bear crawl). These drills alert the CNS of the impending reactivity required for the workout.

There you have it: the comprehensive five-phase Pollenator Warm-up – a warm-up designed to minimize the risk of injury and enable you to hit the ground running each and every workout. Best of all, it takes only 10 minutes!

Bear in mind that for newcomers to resistance training, the Pollenator Warm-up alone could constitute a full workout. Even experienced lifters can easily expand the warm-up into an entire training session by spending extra time on each phase. Roll more muscles, add in additional dynamic stretches, and perform multiple sets of activation, movement rehearsal, and CNS wake-up. Try it today!

Special thanks to Kate Maum for expertly demonstrating the Pollenator Warm-up.

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