Warm Ups are the activities and the time period spent before exercise to prepare the body, both mentally and physically for exercise. Warm Ups can be general or specific and generally consists of some form of pulse raising movement, some form of stretching, and in many cases (more recently) foam rolling.
Typically in my own warm ups I incorporate;
Foam Rolling or trigger point release,
Followed by Dynamic Stretching
Then a movement specific warm up.
(The dynamic stretching and the movement specific elements act as my pulse raiser and stretching combined)
Foam Rolling (AKA Self – Myofascial Release)
When we exercise what we are actually doing is creating damage to the muscles in the form of tiny tears. These tears recover and grow stronger each time we use them, however sometimes that stress can cause tightness and therefore more significant damage to the muscle. Historically this damage has been countered with Massage, however foam rolling has boomed over the last decade in offering people a readily available and cheap substitute for expensive treatments. Foam Rolling, or Self-Myofascial release, is the release of this tightness in the muscles and the stimulation of certain areas towards that recovery process. It is traditionally done with a long cylindrical roller with varying degrees of firmness of ‘knobbly bits’ on them. However the more experienced users often move onto special trigger point balls and even sometimes onto golf balls! So onto the Science! Foam Rolling has a number of proven benefits to athletic performance. These include:
Increased range of motion in joints (1) – vital for almost all exercises (just think about your squat depth)
Improved athletic performance (2)
Reduction in DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) (3) – When performed post exercise
Improved Recovery back towards optimal performance(3) – When performed post exercise
Stretching Static vs Dynamic
Primarily, Warm ups, or lack of, are often linked with increased risk of injury. However, that may not be the case. Actually, based on the literature (4, 5) no significant relationship has been found between warm ups (particularly the stretching element) and a reduction in the number of injuries occurring. Which means that those who do not stretch are actually at no more risk than those who do warm up!
It’s not all about injuries though! Warm Ups are about being as prepared as possible before exercise. The more prepared you are for something the better you handle it, right? Well turns out there is a right way and a wrong way to skin the cat after all… Research has shown that STATIC stretching before exercise can REDUCE performance (6, 7) (although conflict exists when considering type of contraction and duration of stretching )(5) and DYNAMIC stretching pre-exercise can IMPROVE performance(5, 6). Based on this research then I always incorporate Dynamic Stretching into my own workouts. Using Primarily 4 stretches which I know as: Inchworms, Grasshoppers, Scorpions and Kick-outs (also known as leg swings). I also often incorporate Calf stretches and Back/Chest stretches into the routine depending on my planned workout.
Specific Movement Drills
These are any movements which are a deliberate and similar practice to what you intend to do within your session. For instance this would include Squats with no weight or an empty bar before heavy work, Or Deadlifting a light weight before going heavy. Consider these drill the mental warm up in partnership with the previous work which could be classed as the physical warm up (Although these also do a bit of that too!). Limited research exists to confirm the benefits of a specific warm up in itself (I also cannot find any concise literature from my own studies to back this up so I will need to come back to this another time). However it is widely recognised that practiced routines (when form is good and kept strict) develop our habits in lifting and moving, and good practice therefore will improve muscular economy, power output and also reduce the risk of injury through poor force production impacting negatively on joints.
So that is the key elements of my warm ups discussed! I am studying towards a heavily scientific degree at the moment and so my writing can be a bit heavy on the science (I’m a bit of a nerd). If you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned or just want me to basically simplify it a bit more next time and not waffle so much then please let me know! These blogs are a learning curve for all of us right now! If you are interested in learning more I have referenced all of the articles I have used (below) or if you ask me I can dig out a hell of a lot more!
Thanks for reading!
MacDonald, G.Z., Penney, M.D., Mullaley, M.E., Cuconato, A.L., Drake, C.D., Behm, D.G. and Button, D.C., 2013. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), pp.812-821.
Peacock, C.A., Krein, D.D., Silver, T.A., Sanders, G.J. and von Carlowitz, K.P.A., 2014. An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. International journal of exercise science, 7(3), p.202.
Pearcey, G.E., Bradbury-Squires, D.J., Kawamoto, J.E., Drinkwater, E.J., Behm, D.G. and Button, D.C., 2015. Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), pp.5-13.
Thacker, S.B., Gilchrist, J., Stroup, D.F. and Kimsey Jr, C.D., 2004. The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(3), pp.371-378
Andersen, J.C., 2005. Stretching before and after exercise: effect on muscle soreness and injury risk. Journal of Athletic Training, 40(3), p.218.
Hough, P.A., Ross, E.Z. and Howatson, G., 2009. Effects of dynamic and static stretching on vertical jump performance and electromyographic activity. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 23(2), pp.507-512.
Simic, L., Sarabon, N. and Markovic, G., 2013. Does pre‐exercise static stretching inhibit maximal muscular performance? A meta‐analytical review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 23(2), pp.131-148.
Behm, D.G. and Chaouachi, A., 2011. A review of the acute effects of static and dynamic stretching on performance. European journal of applied physiology, 111(11), pp.2633-2651.
Martin, P., Pavol, P., Zuzana, P., Martina, T. and Juraj, M., 2014. Effectiveness of static and dynamic stretching prior to speed and speed-strength load. Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 4(4), p.455.