For many years, coaches have used what we call a traditional approach when warming up their athletes for competition and practice. The traditional approach typically consists of static stretching (holding the end range of motion of a muscle) for long periods of time (30 seconds etc.) It was not until the last few years that researchers concluded that static stretching reduces neural activity to the muscles being stretched eliciting up to a 30% reduction of power and strength within an hour period of time. If you are preparing for a high intense bout of training or competition, save static stretching for AFTER your work out. Saving static stretching for after your work out, while your muscles are warm, can reap great benefits for overall flexibility enhancement.
What does a beneficial warm up for movement and competition consist of?
Well, let’s think of this objectively as possible. A well programmed warm up will aim to increase core body temperature, activate musculature used for the activity, safely elongate major muscle groups, reinforce movement patterns and most importantly, stimulate and “wake up” our central nervous system (brain, spinal chord). For my movement training sessions, I focus on four components:
1) Hip Complex/Glute Activation: The activation of the glutes along with the body’s ability to produce power and strength through hip flexion/extension is critical for optimal performance. A strong hip complex and activated glutes will improve power output along with reducing potential injury. This is important for all levels of athletes, especially youth.
2) Dynamic Flexibility: DF is a plethora of movements that are specific to the movements that will be performed in the upcoming movement session. These movements take the muscle through the optimal range of motion, dynamically, but not holding end range of motion for more than 3 or 4 seconds.
3) Movement Skills: A great coach will understand the crossover between this period of a warm up and the upcoming movements during the session. Performing “high knees” just to do is not the objective, but ask yourself is the athlete keeping their pillar nice and tall, coordinating the opposite hand and knee while keeping their toes up to pre-load and prepare the gastrocnemius and soleus for the upcoming contact phase that will translate later to running? This is the perfect time to get more repetition for movements needed during high speed drills. Repetition is important, especially for youth athletes.
4) Neural Activation: Often referred to as rapid response drills, these drills are to be performed in quick, powerful burst to stimulate the communication between the central nervous system and our muscles. They are not meant to be performed for conditioning purposes, only for neural adaptations to lead into a plyometric block of training.
“Okay Jared, these are all cool, and sound scientific, but where is the application, give us some examples of each!” Here ya go. My sample movement preparation for a session that will be focused on multi-directional movement for athletes of almost ALL sports.
Foam Roll: if possible
Hip Complex/Glute Activation: (W/ resistance bands), a) body weight squats 2×10 b) In/Outs 2×12 (each knee) while in “ready” position, lateral shuffle, Frankenstein walks
Dynamic Flexibility: World’s Greatest stretch, Knee Hugs, Inverted Hamstring stretch, Lunge with rotation to the knee up side
Movement Skills: March in place, march forward, high knees, carioca (crossover focus), power skips, skip hugs, lateral shuffle w/ arm swing
Neural Activation: Ladders (pick 6 movements), or 4 square foot drills (pick 6 combinations, both double and single leg), or line drills using multiple patterns and progressions *each pattern and combo should only last approx. 5 seconds.)
This sample warm up should take about 12 minutes to complete and hopefully athletes are in a light sweat and ready for the next training block which should most likely be plyometrics!! GOOD LUCK!
Jared Saavedra M.S., CSCS, PES, CPT, USAW-SPC, YSAS, YFS-1