Warm-ups and cooldowns are an essential part of training and should be given as much thought and effort as the workout itself. In fact, if you’re short on time you are better off going through a proper warmup, mobilization, and stretching session than to try to get a quick workout in while skipping those other components. Let’s take a look at why these components of training and see why each one is so important and how you can optimize it.
Your warm-up prepares your body and mind for that day’s training. Not every day is the same and your warm-up is specific to that. When planning and executing the warm-up you need to consider which energy system your body will be utilizing. A max rep back squat requires very different preparation than a conditioning session with double-unders and wall balls. The warm-up helps to elevate heart rate, stimulate the nervous system, and optimize the function of the tissues and motor patterns you will be training that day. This will reduce your injury risk and optimize your ability to perform.
If you are someone who enjoys chatting during the warm-up or never quite breaks a sweat then I want to challenge you to dial it up a notch. Give your warm-up 100% of your effort next class and see what I mean. If you are giving your best effort in the general and specific warm-up drills you will notice a huge difference in your ability to recruit and activate muscles. This will allow you to move with better form. The efficiency of moving with better form allows to lift more weight and improve your fitness. Isn’t that why we’re all here in the first place… 😉
Human movement patterns can be broken down into a few broad and overarching groups like the squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, rotate and walk. When you mobilize before a workout you are addressing a specific movement pattern.
Sometimes you will accomplish mobilization through a dynamic warm-up. Taking your joints through an increasing range of motion in order to prepare them for the rigours of the workout. Sometimes you will slow down and target specific tissues through foam rolling, flossing, or distraction techniques with a band.
Let’s say the day’s workout is to build up to a heavy single deadlift. The first step is to consider what movement patterns will be involved. In this case, the deadlift involves a hinge as the primary movement pattern. You want to make sure that your back, hips, glutes, and hamstrings are well oiled and firing before you start touching a barbell.
The cooldown can and should involve more than making sweat angels on the floor. The goal is to ensure continuous blood flow to remove the toxins and metabolites that have built up during your training session. By continuing to move after a workout you are actually improving your recovery and setting the tone for your next training session. Hopping on a bike or rower for 10:00 minutes and moving at an easy conversational pace can be a total game-changer in the way you feel the next day. This habit can be hard to do at first. Instead of laying on the floor until you crush your protein shake and head out the door you will develop mental toughness by challenging your body to keep moving. There are huge dividends to this and you will notice improvements in your recovery each day and reduced soreness.
After your cooldown incorporating stretching and additional mobilization techniques into your routine is essential to optimize recovery and performance in your next workout. When you perform an exercise your body is in “fight or flight” mode. There is a huge shift that occurs during your stretching and a rolling session where your body switches back into a parasympathetic or “rest and digest” state. Stretching muscles has been shown to temporarily improved range of motion and will help you when you go to tie your shoes the next morning. By focusing on breathing and moving your tight and sore muscles you are helping to establish homeostasis and you will feel much better for the rest of the day. This is a great practice to repeat again later in the day before bed, especially if you are someone who has trouble shutting off at night and unwinding.
Today we looked at why it is so important to optimize the warmup, mobilization, cooldown, and stretching. We all love to go hard in the workout, but by focusing on improving in these areas is really how you will start to see results!