Warm Up Essentials
By Ryan Patrick
The cookie cutter approach to exercise doesn’t make sense to me, especially when people are stuck behind desks (sustained lumbar flexion, shortened hip flexors) all day or opt to train with movement impairments. Corrective strategies are necessary, and everyone needs to have a static and dynamic evaluation. It’s common to confuse being strong with being healthy.
I love kettlebells and body weight exercises as much as the next guy, but this is one of the hang-ups I have with Crossfit. Despite gaining raving fans in the past few years and aside from a few methodological flaws, I think it’s an otherwise pretty good system. I just don’t believe that a posted workout is the right prescription for the right person at the right time. However, while I wouldn’t use it as a stand alone system, Crossfit workouts can be fun as a challenge or competition. One day my balls will drop, and I’ll make more polarizing statements.
People have similarities, but everyone benefits from extra attention to get the best program for their needs. Customized programs will yield better results, right?
This is a picture scanned from Thomas Myer’s book, Anatomy Trains. If we know people are coming in like this out of alignment, what do you think will happen to this structure when it’s under a (heavy) load? It’s analogous to a card house. If a single card is out of place, the integrity of the entire structure is compromised. People are no different.
To my way of thinking, it doesn’t make sense to bring people into the gym to work them out to the tune of some incredibly hard workout that’s as spiteful as the ex-girlfriend it was named after (for those who aren’t ‘in the know,’ Crossfit workouts were originally given female names). When people don’t qualify for certain lifts due to postural and movement dysfunctions, it’s evident to me that alternate strategies are necessary.
Good exercise prescription begins with proper muscle preparation for the workout, even before the full dynamic warm up begins. There are five areas people need to address:
5. Reinforcement (2)
I’m referring specifically to the inhibition of mechanoreceptors called muscle spindles. When activated, muscle spindles cause your muscles to contract. For example, muscle spindles in the quadriceps cause the quads to contract. The most common example of their effect is the knee jerk reaction.
Trigger points, or areas of tonic contractions of the muscle, can develop causing movement limitations. Using the foam roller stimulates golgi tendon organs (other “mechanoreceptors”) in the muscle-tendon complex that cause the muscle spindles to relax. Stimulating the golgi tendon organs overrides the muscle spindle activation, which allows the muscle in question to be lengthened. This is a phenomenon known as autogenic inhibition.
Not only are you getting the trigger points/adhesions out of the muscle from the pressure of the foam roller, but you’re helping to lengthen the muscle by stimulation of the golgi tendon organs. I wouldn’t say that this suffices stretching the muscle, but I would say that it is far better than stretching alone.
This does not mean lengthen muscles that feel tight. There is sometimes a difference between muscles that feel tight and muscles that are actually shortened. Many people have the feeling of tight hamstrings. However, if your hips are out of alignment (anterior tilt), the hamstrings will actually be taut.
Muscles are elastic in nature, so picture a rubber band. If you stretch the rubber band further out, it gets very tight, and you can “fling” it with your finger if you strum it like a guitar. Despite the rubber band being at a greater length than before, there is actually an increase in tension. Rewind to your hamstrings. They attach to the backside of your pelvis. Anterior tilt pulls the back end of your hips just a little bit higher and causes the hamstrings to be in the constant stretch position. The picture below illustrates how anterior tilt can lengthen the hamstrings (yellow versus red lines).
This creates the same effect with the rubber band. People will often display appropriate hamstring flexibility when asked to move through ranges of motion, but they still complain of tight hamstrings. Sometimes a hamstring issue is not a hamstring problem.
The muscles you need to stretch are your rectus femoris, hip flexors, and adductors. The rectus is a quad muscle and can be stretched by propping your back foot on a bench and going into a deep lunge. This is more or less an isometric Bulgarian split squat. If you hold that bottom position, it’s effective at stretching both the rectus (quad) and the hip flexor. See the golf swing system link (4). Look at the pattern of short/tight muscles up the kinetic chain. They are similar at each joint.
Many people get what is referred to as glute amnesia. Glute amnesia is basically poor nervous system activation of the glutes in several movements. The glutes are responsible for hip extension and external rotation. If they’re “shut down” and not doing the job they’re responsible for, other muscles have to compensate. These compensation patterns can lead to injury down the road or even pain.
Weak glutes can contribute to hamstring strains, low back pain, and even knee pain. There are simple glute activation exercises out there to get the butt fired up! Simple drills will usually do the job of waking the butt up to do work.
This is a continuation of the activation stage, but once we do isolated exercises to get the glutes firing, we need to incorporate them in “same but different” movements that will pop up in our workouts. This could be simple things such as mini-band side steps or anterior reaches.
The job of integration is to use movements that need the activation of the glutes to be executed properly. Generally, these movements will be in the warm up and will either use no weights or very light resistance. We just want to make sure the movement is sound and the glutes are contributing to the motion. A few exercises above and beyond the simple activation exercises will suffice unless someone demonstrates a need for more intense corrective strategies.
Integration is not using the “bun buster” machine. This uses the glutes but in a very non-functional manner. I don’t know too many people who are ever on their forearms donkey kicking like a jackass.
Our goal with integration is to use multi-joint movements and concentrate on the glutes’ role primarily in hip extension or the glute medius’ role in unilateral stability (standing on one leg) and hip abduction.
This is where we exercise and what better exercises to focus on the glutes than deadlifts and deadlift variations! If a nice, round, solid ass doesn’t interest you (ladies included), you should probably just quit deadlifting or don’t start at all.
If you prefer a progressively saggy ass and wonder why light weight and high repetitions aren’t “toning the cellulite” (loathe this phrase), deadlifts are a poor choice for you. If you like getting laughed at by girls because you can’t fill your pants (don’t say it), then deadlifts are also a poor choice for you.
The bottom line—once we get these patterns grooved with the first four steps, we’ll end up here and do some kind of hip dominant movement that focuses on using the glutes to lock out at the top. Deadlifts aren’t for everyone due to certain mobility restrictions that can’t always be overcome from a single warm up, but there are variations out there guaranteed to give you an equally difficult workout. However, at the point of restored mobility and activation, a deadlift will do a much better job of keeping the glutes strong and active than a simple floor exercise.
If you want to increase strength, correct your back/knee pain, and reduce the chance of a hamstring pull, you need to be going through these corrective steps for your glutes. They are an integral part of your core as well so if you seek core training, prepping the posterior chain for work is fundamental to your workout success.
A good warm up is not a five minute bike ride to raise your “core temp.” You need to be moving in multiple directions (planes) and preparing those muscles to operate in a fashion that’s effective for the workout.
1. Cressey E and Robertson M. Feel Better for 10 Bucks. Accessed at: http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_art ... r_10_bucks.
2. Patel B (2004) Hamstring Dominance. Accessed at: http://www.sbcoachescollege.com/article ... nance.html.
3. Myers T (2001) Anatomy Trains. Churchill Livingstone: Edinburgh.
4. Static Posture Assessment. Accessed at: http://www.totalgolfswingsystem.com/Sta ... sment.html.
Because you don't wanna get hurt like me
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