Just like any race, the start is crucial! The warm-up can make or break your workout. It is the most misunderstood aspect of training. Traditional warm-ups are seriously flawed. Quite frankly, most people shoot themselves in the foot before they even begin. Let's examine three common mistakes that people make preparing for their workout.
Mistake #1 - Aerobic activity before weights.
It takes only 10-15 seconds of muscular contractions to raise body temperature by 1ºC and a proper warm-up should raise body temperature by 1-2ºC (1.4-2.8ºF) enough to cause sweating. That's it!
In fact, simply going through the motions of any exercise is sufficient to supply blood to the appropriate working muscles. Just a few repetitions is all you need to really warm-up the muscles; aerobic activity is not necessary as it will zap valuable energy and time.
Rehabilitation specialist, Paul Chek, states: "Resistance training induces specific stress to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints of the arms, legs and/or involved spinal structures. The loads are often high, requiring significant activation by the nervous system. Although aerobic exercise activates the cardiovascular system and warms the body, this type of warm-up is only specific to the working joints." Think about it, how specific is a stationary cycle as an upper body warm-up?
Instead of aerobics, perform the following dynamic stretching routine before every workout. Start slow and shallow and gradually increase speed and range with each repetition; 5-10 reps per movement is all you really need.
DYNAMIC STRETCHING ROUTINE
2. Split Squat
3. Toe Touches
4. Waiter's Bow
5. Side Bends
6. Trunk Twists
7. Arms Vertical
8. Arms Vertical Alternating
9. Arms Horizontal
10. PNF Pattern
11. Arm Circles
12. Wrist Flexion/Extension
13. Wrist Circles
14. Shoulder Shrugs
15. Head Tilt
16. Head Rotation
Mistake #2 - Static stretching before weights.
Static stretching prior to weight training will sedate your nervous system and make you weaker. Numerous studies reveal that muscle stretching will inhibit maximum strength and power. In fact, acute static stretching can decrease strength and power of the stretched muscles by as much as 5-30% for as long as 90 minutes. By then, your workout is over! Dynamic stretching, on the other hand, is useful to simulate the velocity of your training and will help rev up the nervous system in preparation for activity.
The only time you should even consider static stretching before weight training is if you have some extremely tight muscles that, essentially, need to be turned off. The law of facilitation is often recited when referring to these tonic muscles as they tend to rob the neural message during movement.
For instance, if you experience rounded shoulders (i.e. a kyphotic posture) and you plan to work your back, it may be a good idea to stretch out your chest to liberate greater range of motion when rowing or pulling. Since static stretching will disrupt the optimum contraction length and temporarily weaken the fibers, it would be wise to use this form of stretching on antagonistic muscles (such as the chest) prior to working the agonists (which is the back in this case.)
Mistake #3 - Too many repetitions.
In a specific, or related, warm-up, the goal is to prepare the central nervous system (CNS) for a highly specific task. You need to tell the body two things and two things only: what is the range of motion and intensity (i.e. load) that you will use during your work sets.
In essence, specific warm-ups provide practice sets where you can rehearse proper form and technique. Doing too many repetitions during any warm-up will increase lactate levels and decrease strength and performance since lactic acid significantly impairs the nervous system's ability to recruit high threshold motor units.
If that's not bad enough, people actually get injured when they do high reps for a warm-up. Research indicates that pec tears from benching are linked to too many reps in a warm-up. It's true!
Simply perform the exercise that you wish to train - pyramid the load upwards until to reach your working weight and keep the reps below 6 (between 1-5 repetitions works best.) It is better to do more sets at low repetitions than low sets at high reps during a warm-up!
Unfortunately, most warm-ups lack structure and purpose resulting in a poor workout, or worse, injury! Throw tradition out the window. The days of doing unnecessary and non-specific aerobic work followed by the mindless, boring and sedating act of static stretching as part of your warm-up are long gone. Research shows that there are better ways to increase strength during your workouts - the art is being able to apply that science to your training. Remember, the goal of a proper warm-up is performance not fatigue!
John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., C.E.P., is a Certified Kinesiologist and Certified Exercise Physiologist with a Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science. Check out John Paul's DVD, Warm-Up to Strength Training, for some powerful techniques to increase strength and improve performance. It has received a thumbs-up from many experts including Drs. Eric Serrano, Mark Lindsay, and Ken Kinakin as well as Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin. Visit http://www.StrengthWarmUp.com for more information.
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