Tuesday, 15 February 2011 21:00
A Better Warmup
There's nothing wrong with touching your toes. If you can do it, you're ahead of most people in terms of flexibility. Only a short while ago, a quick toe touch and a few minutes on the treadmill was all experts thought was needed to warm up for sports or exercise. And that's still what most people do, if anything. But there's a more effective way to prepare your body for physical activity. It involves going through a series of dynamic movements that increase your core temperature, prepare your nervous system for activity, and activate key muscles that you'll use in your training session. The word "warm-up" doesn't really cover it. That's why we call it "movement preparation," or "movement prep." More than getting warm, "movement prep" decreases your injury potential and improves your training. And it only takes about 5 to 7 minutes.
How Movement Prep Works As opposed to a traditional warm-up, movement prep actually makes you stronger and helps yield long-term flexibility gains. You’ll actively elongate your muscles in a series of movements, which can improve balance, mobility and stability. Think of it as warming up with a purpose. You’ll do approximately 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise in your movement prep routine. Not only will it feel like part of your workout (as opposed to a boring precursor to the real thing), at first it might feel like a workout itself. Don’t worry: Your body will quickly condition itself to the exercises, and when you’re done, you’ll feel warmed up, rather than worn down. And you’ll be better prepared for whatever follows, whether it’s a workout, a game or just the normal actions of everyday life. Benefits of Movement Prep Movement prep helps you dial in both physically and mentally for your workout. It increases your heart rate, core temperature, and blood flow to working muscles. Another benefit: Nearly everyone, including professional athletes, has at least one muscle group that’s completely shut off. This can cause other areas of the body to compensate, which ultimately leads to injury. An example of this would be the small muscles of the hips, the gluteus medius, which if not activated will lead to lower-back problems, knee pain, and groin strain. It’s as if someone flipped the circuit breaker, cutting off power to these little muscles. With movement prep, it takes only a day or two to reactivate these inactive areas. These exercises, which require no equipment, enable your body to recall those movements that perhaps haven’t been used since childhood. By strengthening muscles in this new range of motion, you stabilize all the tiny muscles around your joints that help hold the joints together. That will improve posture and performance and decrease potential for injury. A Wake-up Call for Dormant Muscles We spend most of our time sitting on our butt (glutes), which causes the muscles opposite of them—the hip flexors—to become tight and inactive. The neuromuscular relationship of these opposing muscle groups is known as reciprocal inhibition, which is a fancy way of saying that when one muscle group contracts, the other relaxes. Movement prep is reciprocal inhibition at work. Your movement prep routine wakes these muscles up—and not just for your workout. They’ll remain switched on for the rest of the day. Here’s why that’s important: Let’s say you’re walking on a winter day, and your foot slips on some ice. How well your body reacts to that slip on the ice depends on your proprioception, the system of pressure sensors in the joints, muscles, and tendons that your body uses to maintain balance. Movement prep, in switching on your body’s small muscles, also tunes your sense of proprioception. It prepares your body for random chaotic movement by fine-tuning its nerves and feedback mechanism. Better Than Old School Stretching There’s tremendous value in traditional stretch-and-hold, or “static” stretching if executed properly and done after a workout. However, static stretching routines performed before exercise can increase flexibility only for a short time. There is little scientific evidence that such routines can improve exercise performance, reduce delayed-onset muscular soreness or prevent injuries. A difference between traditional static stretching and movement prep is that the goal of the former is to relax muscles, to allow you to get into a stretched position and hold it. In movement prep, you’re going to contract your muscles, which is to say you’ll be activating them by squeezing them. This improves the long-term mobility and flexibility of muscles. Rather than have them stretch and go back to where they were—as is the case with traditional stretching—movement prep helps your body remember those ranges of motion. Just doing movement prep alone can make your body stronger and more stable, and can also help increase speed and power output. Do it before every training session. Use static stretching after your workout.