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Why Proper Warm Up Matters

By Dr. Matt Fontaine

Sports Medicine September 2015Most of us lead hectic schedules day to day.  We often rush into workouts in the interest of saving time.  Triathletes are often quick to push off warm ups, especially on their runs.  They can ease in and warm up on a bike and most swim workouts have a good built in warm up.  However, the run is often just lace ’em up and go.  Spending a few minutes prepping for your run can result in better running form and less chance of injury.  Other athletes across other sports typically utilize a well-planned warm up and drill set before the real work of practice or the workout begins.  But what about proper warm up in the gym before strength training?  During strength and conditioning, be it bodybuilding, powerlifting or CrossFit, all these athletes would do well to implement these warm up strategies for better, safer workouts.  In fact, we can learn a lot from the powerlifting community.  They have long practiced long sets before a relatively shorter “hard work period” and a proper cool down.

Getting to workout at Trident in the same gym as so many of my patients train allows for some common ground.  If you notice, the coaches at Trident do an excellent job of making proper warm up a consistent thing.  Warm ups tend to make up a substantial component to the days’ overall workload.  Notice how the actual “WOD” is shorter, allowing for longer warm ups and cool downs.  We are fortunate to have coaches that understand the importance of this paradigm.  The science only reinforces why we need to warm up properly.

Here is a quick rundown of how your workouts can and most likely should be set up.

  1. Heating up the tissues:  

Takes about 2-5 minutes.  You can row on the Erg, run, jump rope or bike on the always punishing Airdyne.  The point is to increase core body temperature, helping to make tissues temporarily more elastic.  More importantly it begins to ramp up the nervous system.

  1.  Prep your problem areas:

If you have tight spots and/or you’re working through limitation or injury, spend a few minutes on a lacrosse ball or foam roller to ease out these tissues.  Keep in mind most soft tissue regeneration is best saved for after the workout.

  1. Cold In/ Cold Out:

The body needs a proper warm up to get to temperature and prepare the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system to move efficiently and with speed, strength, and power.  Static stretching is antiquated and simply does not reduce muscle stiffness nor reduce injury rates.  Dynamic movements do reduce muscle stiffness and prepare the body to move better.  Moreover, dynamic movement prep has a great capacity to reduce the likelihood of injury.

  1. Do enough warm up sets: 

Dynamic warm ups like movement prep and even skill work drills are a great way to ramp up the nervous system.  A great way to coach proper technique is using a PVC bar to work through a progression of skilled movements, each building on the previous movement, culminating into a technical lift like a snatch, clean and jerk or deadlift.  Many CrossFit coaches utilize this technique for skill work, and it can be very effective.  There is no better way to warm up for a technical lift than to break that movement down and drill those movements.

  1. Keep your main workout shorter:

Unless you are bodybuilding and need a higher volume of “sets & reps”, you should strive to keep the main body of your workout to about 60% at most of your total workout.  That leaves the other 40% to be spent on proper warm up and cool down.

  1. Take the time to Cool Down: 

Most workouts will leave you tight.  If you leave the gym in that state, you will be tight. In just 10 minutes, you can do some simple mobility drills that will begin the regeneration process.  So grab a lacrosse ball, foam roller, and monster band and work through your body.  You can spend extra time on problem areas.  Proper cool down down-regulates your physiology from being in an excited state with your engine revved up from the workout and gets you back to neutral.

The take home points:

Warm up properly.  It only takes 2-5 minutes to get your core temperature up.  Then you are ready for a bit longer movement prep, 20 minutes or so working on drills and skills.  Keep your primary set relatively short.  Get a little better each day, with each workout.  Live to fight another day.  Spend 10-20 minutes on proper cool down.  Get your body’s engine back to neutral.  Help the body to stabilize the changes that you stimulated during the workout and begin the recovery process correctly.

Remember, proper nutrition and sleep and recovery are critical elements to being prepared for your next workout and prevent overtraining.

Dr. Matt Fontaine
Dr. Matt Fontaine

Dr. Matt Fontaine is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine, who focuses on combining chiropractic, sports medicine, and Active Release Techniques® (A.R.T).   An avid athlete, he is dedicated to athletes and understands the needs of active individuals. He is also team sports doctor to the Alexandria Aces and runs Potomac Physical Medicine at 113 N. Henry Street in Old Town, Alexandria, www.PotomacPhysicalMedicine.com.


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