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This article was written to give you a better understanding about the importance of a decent warm-up for strength training. This will boost your performance!
In gyms most of the warm-up routines look like this: talking, checking Instagram, making sure that your selfie filter is ready, pumping out 10 fast reps with the bar… Ready, set, go...! This is not what a good warm-up should look like. A warm-up can make a huge difference in how your training is going to be. Riding a bicycle for 5min and then start squatting with your work set weight is not a good idea. Not only will it decrease your performance, the risk of injury is also a lot higher. Oh, and by the way, you didn’t warm-up your legs because you cycled for a few minutes. The muscles may be "warm" because you generated some blood flow into the muscle, but there are more important things that need to be done before you start your work set.
Everybody knows the feeling that your first set doesn’t feeling good and you already have to grind to get the weight up. The second set feels a bit better and the third set is feeling a lot better. How is this possible...? It was your warm-up routine that wasn’t good. In this article we will look at how you can improve your warm-up to get the most out of your training from your first set!
Let’s see what a good warm-up should look like!
A warm-up consists of different parts. The name we use for covering them all is the “movement prep”. We are prepping our body to move well. What are the most important parts of the movement prep?
1. Mobility
2. Motor control
3. Nervous system activation (NSA)
Before we do anything else, mobility is our biggest concern. We need mobility to get in a safe full range of motion in our movements. Without decent mobility we put our body at risk of injury.
Be aware, mobility is not the same as flexibility. In flexibility, we only look at active structures of the body (muscle, tendon, fascia). In mobility we look at the active AND passive structures (muscles, tendons, fascia, joints, ligaments, joint capsule). This is important because in some joints we will increase the range of movement, not by stretching but by mobilizing the joint itself.
My favourite mobility methods:
- Mobilization with movement:
Creating more movement in a joint by using movement and traction of the joint.
- FAT tool:
Fascia abrasion therapy is a technique where you assist in mobilizing tight fascia and help improve motor function. By rubbing the tool up and down the skin we make sure that all the layers of the skin don’t have restrictions.
- Foamrol:
We can use the foamrol to release trigger points and as a massage tool. Rolling improves circulation, which gets the body ready for a workout and helps it recover afterwards. We use it because it’s easy to use by clients and you can give some exercises as homework to get faster results.
- PNF stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation):
A form of flexibility training that involves both the stretching and contraction of the muscle group being targeted. This stretching method is really efficient and gives you fast results to improve your training quality.
To know what method is best for you, you need a movement screening to see which area is tight and if there is a mobility problem in the fascia, muscle or joint. If you don’t know a professional, you can just mobilize the most important muscles you’re going to train in that session.
Be aware, mobility is not the same as flexibility.
Motor control
Definition: “Motor control is the process by which we use our brain/cognition to activate and coordinate the muscles and limbs involved in the performance of a motor skill. Fundamentally, it is the integration of sensory information, both about the world and the current state of the body, to determine the appropriate set of muscle forces and joint activations to generate some desired movement or action.”
Motor control means we need to get the right muscles activated at the right time. Sometimes we call this phase stability, but it is more than just being stable. It is also muscle timing, but as this is on spinal level we don’t have much of an influence on this. The only thing we can do is pick exercises where a good timing needs to occur.
By picking such exercises we will retrain the signaling and timing of the right muscles in our body. This will result in better and safer movement and will let us generate more force.
Some of my favourite exercises are:
- Single leg Romanian deadlift
- Core activation squat
- KB shoulder stability
- Superman
 Nervous System Activation (NSA)
As we finally move to the weights, it’s time to warm-up our nervous system. Our nervous system is our software and we need to activate it.
This is not the same approach as warming up the muscles. For our nervous system activation, the goal is to let the body experience the amount of muscle fibres it needs to contract for our working set. By activating these muscle fibres, the body will be ready for the heavy weight.
The more reps you are going to do, the less time you have to spend on your nervous system activation (NSA). On the other hand, if you have a training where you have fewer reps but higher weight, NSA becomes very important.
So, the heavier you train, the more the nervous system will be challenged. As an example, we take the comparison of heavy weights and a sprint session. If you are going to do a sprint session you also want to warm-up just by jogging a couple of rounds but also build in some progressive sprints or sprints of shorter distance. With heavy weight training this is exactly the same. Only warming up with the bar and then jumping right into your workset is not going to work, it’s not efficient and you increase your rate of injury.
What does a good weight warm-up look like? Let’s give you two examples of different training types.
Exercise: SQUAT
Volume training:
Let’s see what a good warm-up should look like!
10 reps - Workset: 100kg
- Set 1: 10 reps only with the bar, stay 2-5 sec in the bottom position.
- Set 2: 6 reps 60kg
- Set 3: 4 reps 80kg
- Set 4: 2 reps 100kg
- Set 5: WORKSET
Intensity training:
4 reps - Workset: 140kg
- Set 1: 8 reps only with the bar, stay 2-5 sec in the bottom position.
- Set 2: 4 reps 60kg
- Set 3: 4 reps 80kg
- Set 4: 2 reps 100kg
- Set 5: 2 reps 120kg
- Set 6: 1 reps 140kg
- Set 7: WORKSET
As you can see, in the last warm-up set we use the same weight as our workset, but the reps are really low. This is because we don’t want to fatigue our muscles, just activate our NSA. The body feels the weight and fires the muscle fibres. Now it is ready and prepared to take this weight and start the training.
If you want to get the maximum out of your training, every detail counts. Follow my 3 part warm-up routine and you will feel a lot better in your training. You will be focused, the movement will feel better and your performance will go up.
Make sure to get a movement assessment by a qualified trainer, this way you can implement specific exercises in your warm-up based on your movement assessment. I recommend trainers who followed the advanced module “assess and correct” from Physical Coaching Academy.
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