MAXIM fitness guru ALEXA TOWERSEY shows us why a proper warm-up can be the difference between having a good workout and a bloody great one…
ARE YOU WARM YET?
We tend to underestimate the warm-up portion of training because we know an adrenaline-pumping WOD or max lift lies ahead and that’s the shit we’re really excited about. But while it’s understandable to want to skip ahead to the main event, a thorough warm-up can’t be dismissed. It’s crucial for preparing your body for the hard work ahead, maximising efficiency, and most importantly, protecting you from injury.
There’s a lot of contradictory info out there right now about warm-ups, activation, correctives and mobility. Do a little of everything and soon your warm-up becomes longer than your workout, and worst case scenario, even ends up detracting from your performance. But let’s make no mistake here, a well-structured and purposeful 15-minute warm-up can be the difference between a good workout and a great one. Just like foreplay really.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
A quick and effective warm-up has five main components…
Component 1: The General Warm-up
First, get some blood flowing. Spend 3-5 minutes doing some form of general cardio. This is all about increasing your core temperature and loosening up the muscles you’re about to hit. You could just jog for a few minutes, but there are better and less boring low-impact and full body alternatives like sled pushes/drags, rowing or the dreaded assault bike.
Component 2: Mobility
These are a series of dynamic movements that help to improve the range of motion around a joint complex, allowing you to get into the most stable and effective body position as required in a specific exercise. If you want to make sure you engage your glutes and hamstrings maximally in a squat, you need to be able to hit a decent depth.
Mobility is not to be confused with flexibility – addressed with long, static stretching AFTER your session is complete as part of a cooldown.
Component 3: Muscle Activation
To make your workout efficient and effective, you want to make sure that the right muscles are doing the right work at the right time. Mind-muscle connection is an integral part of your workout and can often be the difference between merely exercising, and actually “training”. You can make your warm-ups specific to upper or lower body. Think banded pull aparts and scapular pushups/pullups for your shoulders and upper back or banded lateral walks and glute bridges for your hips and glutes.
Use your warm-up to identify any potential imbalances. If one side is tighter than the other, then mobilise it on a 2:1 ratio favouring that side. If one side is weaker than replace bilateral movements in your workout with single arm/leg alternatives.
Component 4: Priming the Central Nervous System (CNS)
The brain signals to your muscles will dictate your results for the day so make sure you wake that sucker up. If you want to lift heavy, your muscles might be doing the physical work but it’s your mind that’s the real driving force. Research has shown using static core exercises and isometrics can achieve a great CNS warm-up. You can also use explosive exercises like a Dead Ball Slam, KB Swing or jump variation.
Try using 3 x 8 Fast and Explosive Dead Ball Slams before a heavy bench press session.
Component 5: Ramp Up
Essentially this is just 1-3 warm-up sets of the exercise you’re about to perform – the number of sets depending on the exercise complexity or load. You’re just putting the rest of your warm-up components to the test to reinforce an optimal movement pattern.
Implement “Active Rest” between sets. If your squat feels uncomfortable, use your rest to stretch out the hip flexors or calves. If your lower back is tight, use your rest to deload with lateral movement or by tractioning the spine in a dead hang.
THE DYNAMIC WARM-UP
Here’s an sample of a full-body prep you can use before any training session…
5 mins – skip, row, assault bike, run completed as 45 secs EASY pace, 15 secs HARD sprint.
10 x Banded Shoulder Dislocates
15 x Banded Pull Aparts
10 x Banded Overhead Reverse Lunge
20 x Dead Bugs
15 x Side Plank Hip Touch
15 x Single Leg Glute Bridges
20 x Banded Lateral Walks (to combine upper and lower body, hold 2 x KB’s in a double rack hold position throughout)
3 x 8 Banded KB Swings OR 3 x 5 Knee to Feet Jumps (lower body focused)
3 x 8 Deadball Slams OR 3 x 5 Plyo Pushups (upper body focused)
Top Tip: The Mind is Primary
Psychological strength is just as important as physical so it makes sense that your warm-up should include a mental/emotional component. Next time commit to taking a couple of minutes to write down your intention/s for the training session. What do you plan to get out of it? How do you expect to feel physically and emotionally during AND after the workout?