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Warm Ups, But Why?

posted on March 18, 2019

By: Alexa Ferri

Barbara goes to the gym. Barbara never warms up. Don’t be like Barbara.
If you are like most people, and myself, you tend to fly through your warm-ups. Maybe you don’t know why you are warming up or how it is a major piece to your goal puzzle. My aim in this blog is to give you the whys.

Why warm-up?
A few reasons to warm-up:
-injury prevention
-increase core temperature
-increase neuromuscular activation
-allow our muscles to adapt before the all intent effort

…these changes are a result of general and specific warm-ups.

A general warm-up is used to increase overall body temperature and prime your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight system). Whereas, the specific warm-up is used to elicit a specific adaptation to the area you are training for that day (Think a greater intention with a specific warm-up).

With a general warm-up, we are priming our body to become efficient at improving oxygen availability by dissociating oxygen from hemoglobin, increasing muscular blood flow by opening blood capillaries, and improving neuromuscular communication by increasing the speed of nerve impulses.

With a specific warm-up, we are prepping the group of muscles being trained and its surrounding tissues and joints. The specificity is useful in gearing your motor skills, muscle and joint plasticity, and ensuring adequate muscle fiber recruitment.

Aside from the aforementioned benefits, mental preparation is another important variable to a successful training day. The focus and mental preparedness will carry over into your technique, mind-muscle connection, skill, coordination, and just overall enjoyment.

Full disclaimer: these recommendations are intended for general and preventative measures, using weight training as our focus. Now if you are a person with a particular injury or have an area needing special attention, then specific drills and stretches should be prescribed on a per individual/diagnosis basis by a doctor or coach.

General Warm-Up:
We want to increase overall body temperature and not necessarily hone in on any specific area, hence “general.” We will get to the details later. A general warm-up is typically performed for 10-20 minutes. The duration is going to vary depending on your cardiovascular level of fitness. Within your general warm-up you can include some dynamic stretching/mobility as well. This can be specific to your day’s focus. Your intention here is to get your body acclimated to feeling warm, moving in a mimicry motion for your intention of the day, and beginning to activate the sympathetic nervous system.

Examples of General Warm-Ups:
Walking on the treadmill
Light jogging
Dancing (fav)
Examples of General-Dynamic Lower Body Warm-Ups:
Hip CARs
Quadruped Hydrants
Leg Swings
Spiderman Reaches
90/90 Hips Stretches
Box Jumps
Examples of General-Dynamic Upper Body Warm-Ups:
Band Pull Apart
Scapular Retraction/Protraction
Internal/External rotations
PVC Pipe Pass Through
Arm Circles

Specific Warm-Up:
Specific warm-ups are ones that compliment or mimic the activity or movement you are training for that day. With the intention of specificity, we are attempting to increase the speed at which nerve impulses travel and the sensitivity of our receptors in that particular focal point. This is helping us gain control as to what we want our body to do or how we want our body to perform. Whether your goal is strength, hypertrophy, sports, etc., we want to increase our muscle fiber recruitment efficiency. Try adding unilateral exercises to your warm-up. It is important to have both sides firing and to work on asymmetries that could potentially retard progress.

Make your warm-ups slow and controlled. The intensity of a specific warm-up should gradually progress from low to moderate intensity, before beginning our working sets. We typically do this for squat, bench, and deadlift by pyramiding our way up. Our purpose for the specific warm-up? To prime the muscles, increase joint range of motion, and increase psychological readiness.

Examples of Specific Warm-ups:
-Squat specific warm-up drills: banded air squats, lateral banded walks, banded monster walks, goblet squats, light leg press. After the specific drills, you will begin with the bar and gradually move up your percentages while decreasing reps (remember this is a warm-up not your working sets, so do not exhaust yourself, but at the same time it is critical to prime our body in this manner)

-Deadlift warm-up drills: KB swings, light RDL’s, lateral banded walks, glute bridges, glute focused back extensions, banded/cable lat pull overs, etc. Again, progress in weight and start with the bar as you did the squat.

-Bench warm-up drills: Band pull aparts, light dumbbell bench, light banded tricep ext. And of course, don’t forget your bar pyramid.

Cool-down…BUT WHY?
First, we want to take our raised heart rate down to a relatively normal resting heart rate. We also want to promote recovery, and return our bodies to a parasympathetic drive (hopefully this is a familiar return and not something that is new…)

When we train, we create a very stressful process within. Muscles fibers develop micro tears, tendons and ligaments get worn and stressed, and waste builds. We also experience blood pooling. A process that occurs when your working muscles require attention from the heart, eating up the oxygen and nutrients that blood delivers. This is a quick drive by, then back to the heart for more. Once exercise stops, so does the pressure of blood to the heart. After training, blood and waste products hang out in our muscles, this is typically characterized by mild swelling and burning.

So, this is all fine and dandy, but how does a cool-down help? The cool-down will help recirculate the blood, which also helps bring fresh groceries aka oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons to begin repair.

Also, remember how cool-downs can help increase parasympathetic activity (rest and digest)? Well, here are some techniques to gaining back some control and relaxing. Breath work! Try lying on your back either with your feet flat on the ground or with your legs elevated up against a wall. Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth, this can be very efficacious to shutting down that fight or flight drive. If this does not appeal to you, here are some other tips to redistribute blood and begin the recovery process; relax in pigeon pose for 2-3 minutes per leg or another favorite stretch, foam roll, or just hop on a bike or treadmill and go easy. Last, BUT not least…HYDRATE.


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