Warm-ups. We all know we should do them, but we seldom do. Even those who engage in some light cardio and a few stretches miss the mark when it comes to the role of an adequate pre-workout warm-up that includes dynamic stretching, particularly when we want to perform at our best.
A proper workout should do more than simply get blood flowing to muscles and loosen up stiff joints to enhance movement efficiency.
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Prime your body for performance
A proper warm-up should prepare our bodies for the physical activity that lies ahead.
It should give all the muscles that we’re about to engage a wake-up call and prime our neuromuscular system to fire properly, which ensures muscles fire when they should and perform to their full potential from the start.
That’s why a dynamic pre-workout warm-up is all about activation. In the broader context, pre-workout activation focuses on activating the neuromuscular system.
This requires that we perform exercises or drills to turn on the right muscles so that they fire optimally, when you need them to.
A comprehensive pre-workout activation routine should include a combination of general mobility exercises, specific movement drills, and dynamic stretches that enhance the communication between your nervous system and your muscles.
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Reduce the muscle reflex
And using dynamic stretches are important in this regard, as static stretches activate a protective neuromuscular reflex that temporarily reduces a muscle’s ability to produce maximal force.
To illustrate the benefit of dynamic stretches, a study1 published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, looked at the “effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power”.
The researchers found that there was “no significant difference” between leg extension power among participants who performed static stretching and those who did no stretching at all.
However, they did find that “leg extension power after dynamic stretching was significantly greater than that after non-stretching.”
Based on the results researchers concluded that “static stretching for 30 seconds neither improves nor reduces muscular performance and that dynamic stretching enhances muscular performance.”
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The right tool for the job
As the drills are specific to the activity you’re about to perform, it is important to select the right type of pre-activation exercise.
As most exercise requires running or similar biomechanical movement patterns, your hips and the surrounding muscles are generally always involved. As such, hip mobility drills and glute activation drills are an ideal addition to any pre-workout activation warm-up.
Specific movement drills should target the neuromuscular system by activating specific muscles and movement patterns.
As an example, ideal warm-up drills before any sport that involves running could include:
- High knees
- A, B and C skips
- Heel-to-glute kicks
- Walking lunges
- Front-to-back leg swings
- Side-to-side leg swings
These specific movement drills will increase neuromuscular activation, preparing the muscles to fire in the way they’ll be required to during the pending race or workout.
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Pre-workout activation guidelines
A combination of light cardiovascular activity, accompanied by mobility drills, some dynamic stretching, and specific movement drills that activate the neuromuscular system and movement chains that you will use during your workout or race is the ideal approach to effective warm-ups.
Follow these steps to get the most from your workout:
- Keep your pre-workout activation routine to about 10 minutes.
- Complete it 3-10 minutes before your high-intensity training session or race to ensure no residual fatigue remains.
Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. Taichi Yamaguchi, Kojiro Ishii. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):677-83. Doi: 10.1519/15044.1