A proper warm up before exercise or athletic activity decreases the risk for injury AND can improve your overall performance. Preparing your body to move by increasing muscle temperature, tissue flexibility and range of motion facilitates better muscle tissue firing. In other words, warm up prep = greater POWER!
Here at Apex, we like to call a proper warm up “movement prep.” This article explores the three components of movement prep : Mobilize, Activate and Stabilize, and Get Specific. Below, we will take you through each component as if you were preparing to do pull ups. Keep in mind this is a blueprint for non injured patients and non painful movements.
First, determine the range of motion needed for the exercise ahead. For our example of a pull up, both arms must be able to extend fully overhead without pain or compensation from another area of the body. This range of motion starts with the shoulders which includes both the ball and socket glenohumeral joint and the shoulder blade moving on the ribcage. If the muscles supporting this area like the rotator cuff, pecs, lats, or upper traps are tight, they won’t perform at their best. Keep in mind, these muscles listed above are ones found commonly to be tight or have tender points but each athlete is different. Below we’ll talk about how to find tight and tender muscles and different ways to treat it. Strategies to mobilize and prime the tissue for movement can include foam rolling, lacrosse ball smushing, and active stretching.
Foam rolling increases tissue range of motion without sacrificing strength during exercise. Moving the joint through its range of motion while foam rolling has shown to increase flexibility of the target muscles. Below is a video demonstrating how to foam roll the lats. Roll the length of the muscle and upon finding an area that feels tight or tender, lift the arm up closer to your ear. After you work through a few tender spots switch to the other side.
Lacrosse balls function as a more pinpoint foam roller. Through the same neurological pathways they
aid in increasing tissue extensibility and decreasing perceived tightness. The lacrosse ball is a great way to target the smaller 4 muscles of the rotator cuff. In addition to internally and externally rotating the shoulder, these muscles work in union to stabilize the head of the humerus. For full range overhead motion the rotator cuff needs to be firing properly to ensure a stable ball and socket joint.
Whether or not you find any tight areas with deep tissue mobilization, move on to active stretching. Active stretching is the next step to furthering a joint’s range of motion. Active/dynamic stretching is shown to increase flexibility and reduce stiffness. Active stretching can be described as a controlled “wiggle” into the tissue restriction and then return to neutral. Below is an example of active stretching for the upper traps. By activating and using the upper trap then moving into a stretch can help improve range of motion greater than just lengthening the muscle alone.
These warm ups can also be used as a great assessment process if the athlete is finding that a movement or a range of motion is consistently harder than another. If you are experiencing specific restrictions come in for a one on one assessment.
2. Activate and Stabilize
Our muscles and fascia are now more flexible and will allow for better performance. In our example of a pull up, the above mobilizations better allow for the shoulder to flex fully overhead. The next step is to activate the shoulder muscle fibers that initiate and control pressing or reaching overhead. We accomplish this with light weight or body weight exercises.
Challenging our shoulder with light weight through a full, controlled, range of motion plugs our brain into the movement. Using the muscles increases sensory input and this increase in neurological activity improves the firing pattern of the muscles. A small and brief increase in strength can also be attributed to better neurological and proprioceptive control. This phenomenon is defined as postactivation potentiation.
To have better control of our overhead movement before a pull up we can use the exercise pictured below. What’s being demonstrated is a foam roller overhead press on the wall. With arms parallel, activate the shoulders by pressing into the foam roller. The control the foam roller movement as you roll it up and down the wall.
The powerhouse of a pull up is our latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly “lats” for short. Below demonstrates a banded lat pull down. Stack yourself in a kneeling position and pull the hands wider than shoulder width apart. Set the shoulder blades by engaging them down and back. This movement will also depress the shoulders. Then pull the band down and back squeezing the elbows and widening through the chest.
3. Get Specific
Now that the range of motion is adequate and the muscles are primed for firing, the last step in a movement prep is to do the movement itself! Our bodies are pretty smart in how they respond to demands. The more we do a certain movement, the better that movement pattern becomes ingrained and the easier it will feel to us.The scheme for this last step of the warm up is doing the desired exercise with an inverse relationship between weight and rep. I.e. start with lighter weight and more reps and progress to less reps at a heavier resistance.
For the pull up, use the same (or a heavier) resistance band as before but instead position it around the pull up bar as seen below. Step into the band and set your body up for a pull up on the bar.
Start with a banded pull up for 7-10 repetitions and then rest. Decrease the band strength and repeat the pull up for 2-3 more sets of 2-3 reps
After this the warm up is complete and you’re ready to crush those pull up reps!
Our example covered a pull up for simplicity’s sake but the principle of specificity goes well beyond single exercises. Studies looking at both bat swing speed in softball players and sprint speed in soccer players found both performances were significantly better with activity specific warm ups. The best way to swing a bat faster, warm up by actually swinging the bat and sprint times were improved by running strides the same distance at 60% of perceived full speed ability.
Apex loves to help with formulating specific warm ups! So if you feel you could benefit from this approach don’t hesitate to book in.