Just Getting Warmed Up, Part 2

This is a follow-up post to yesterday’s Just Getting Warmed Up, Part 1.

You’ve finished foam rolling, now what?

Phase 2: Stretching / Mobility

Mobility exercises are specifically designed to improve the range of motion of your joints, on both an immediate and long-term basis.  Specific mobility problem areas vary person to person, but there are common patterns that emerge.  For an excellent pre-exercise stretching routine that hits most of the potential trouble areas, check out Mike Robertson’s Hard Core Stretching.

In addition, I recommend everyone use the Wall Ankle Mobilization as a part of their mobility work.  I perform a set of these for each leg between every set of squats in addition to during my warmup.  You should feel a stretch in your soleus muscle (lower part of your calf) and Achilles tendon as you push your knee toward the wall.  Keep you weight on the heel of your forward leg (don’t even think about letting it come off the floor).

Phase 3: Muscle Activation

For many reasons – sitting at a desk all day and poor exercise choices being key – most people have muscles that are difficult to activate (due to relative weakness or neurological inhibition) during normal exercise.  Muscle activation exercises are used to “wake up” those muscles pre-workout, strengthen them, and help teach you to use them during exercise.  Like mobility, muscle activation varies person to person.  Common problem areas for most, however, include the glutes and the lower traps.

Glutes

Weak/inhibited glutes are the sister problem to tight hip flexors.  The glutes (gluteus maximus technically) perform the opposite motion of hip flexors, so if your hip flexors are too tight/shortened/active, it makes sense that your hip extensors (glutes) may be inhibited and weak.  Hip flexors tight, glutes worthless.  In addition to reducing performance and increasing injury risk during many exercises, inhibited/weak/inactive glutes are not great for those of us looking to turn heads with our excellent posterior.  So let’s activate those glutes. Enter the glute bridge. Take it away, Nick Tumminello:

Squeeze the glutes at the top.  Hard.  Start with 8 and work up to 15.  Then start doing them one leg at a time.

Lower Traps

Weak/inhibited lower trapezius muscle fibers and bad posture are chicken and egg.  Which one came first?  Who knows.  But we do know that improving control over the lower traps improves posture, and improving posture requires activating those lower traps.  The lower traps are a major muscle involved in retracting and depressing your scapulae (shoulder blades).  That’s drawing them together and pressing them down.  Try it.  Your posture just got way better.  You look taller, more confident, and like you have a bigger chest.  Your upper body is more stable for exercise.  This is a win.  Lets teach your lower traps to work.  Try the scapular wall slide:

As you pull your elbows down, focus on pulling your shoulder blades toward your but.  Retract and depress.  Try not to arch your back too much.

Phase 4: Activity Specific Warm-Up

The last step of the warm up  is pretty straight-forward.  If you’re lifting, perform a few lighter-weight sets, building your weight up to the level of your work sets.  The higher the intensity of the work sets, the more warm-ups you need.  If you’re performing a sport, or some form of cardio, do a few minutes of the activity at a 50% pace, then 75%, before you dive in all the way.

This has been a gross disservice to the complexity that is a proper warm-up, but it should be enough to get you started.  All in all, this warm-up shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.  Give it a shot.  Chances are your performance and movement quality will improve, and you’ll feel better to boot.

For more resources on warming up, check out:

Maximum Strength (book) – This book has a great section on warm-ups, which covers everything I’ve said here in more detail.  Even if you aren’t interested in strength, give it a look.

Assess and Correct (DVD and manual series) – This is the ultimate in corrective exercise programming.  It’s expensive and comprehensive.  It will teach you to assess your weaknesses and correct them.  Site looks sketchy, but the product is fantastic.  (No bias – I do not make money from that link)