Over the past several years I have found that in regards to "warming up" for a workout or training session, a vast majority of athletes either totally neglect the warm-up process, or they totally misuse it. The former enters the gym, racks up the bench and starts pumping out the sets with no warm-up whatsoever—and then wonders why he cramps up mid-max twenty-minutes later. The later, on the other hand, spends 15 minutes of tree sloth trudging on the stationary bike, then wonders why he has no fire for the session’s big power moves.
I am sure there are scientific explanations for these phenomena, but they do not concern me. I am simply concerned with what works; with what will prepare my athletes for a challenging session; what will contribute to their overall physical development path. What I have discovered is that within the warm-up portion of each session lies an exceptional opportunity for growth and development in areas of balance, proprioception, stabilizer recruitment and fast twitch fiber activation. Much of what I have discovered in this area has been inspired by some simple words spoken by AIS conditioning coach Harry Wardell. Harry once said to me, "If you challenge the balance of your athletes when they are cold, it’s twice as difficult, and they gain twice the benefit." I have put Harry’s words to use in my dynamic warm-ups and they have produced outstanding results in the aforementioned areas of physical development in every athlete I have exposed them to.
I do these with my athletes right off the street, before they have a chance to "find there feet" or warm-up in any way. I always start with a few balance moves, and then weave in safe, dynamic movements that will also serve as overall body warm-up. I am a huge believer in flexibility training, but I generally avoid static stretches prior to the workout to avoid stretching muscles into relaxation. At the end of my warm-ups, the athletes have all broken a sweat, they are totally focused, loose and their muscles are fired-up for ACTION! Form there, the progression of each exercise is paced to work out any non-addressed or inherently tight areas.
Below is the first five exercises of a great Warm-up routine, with a healthy progression for advanced athletes. I will adress more in my next article. Within reason, don’t be afraid to use your imagination and develop movements and challenges to suit the specific needs of your clients. Developing and expanding movement vocabulary is a never ending journey, but I have found the warm-up session to be an excellent place to start down the path.
Wobble Board challenges (3-5 x 20 sec. with 20 sec. rest between)
This modest piece of equipment is standard in most gyms, and should be in your studio as well. They are often used in ankle rehabilitation, and are a great, portable balance tool. Follow the progression to suit your client’s level of balance. Pay special attention to your their posture, and have them maintain a focus of a slight "wrap" in the trunk department throughout.
- Stand Still – First things first, try to balance on the thing
- Deliberate movement – Figure eights, circles, side-to-side, without letting the edges touch the ground.
- Throw and catch a ball
- Eyes Closed (entire progression – use the FORCE to catch the ball!)
- One legged (entire progression)
Aerobesic with Twist (2 x 3-6 each side, each leg, 30 sec. rest between)
The Aerobesic is another great balance challenge, and it builds stabilizer muscle recruitment into your twisting motion. I learned it from the guys down at the VIS, and I have also included it as a primary exercise in my Core Development for Snow Sports article.
First establish a good aerobesic position, with your planted leg slightly bent and your body parallel to the ground (it is ok to have a slight bend in the back leg).
Maintain a nice "wrap" sensation with your abs and lower back, and pull shoulder blades back slightly.
Without "opening" your hips, rotate your upper body slowly as far as you can first to the left and then to the right (2 seconds up, 2 seconds down), maintaining posture, and a parallel body position to the ground. Breathe OUT as you rotate.
Check and reset your position (no Sagging), and repeat.
When you are ready to progress, make the twisting motion fast / explosive, and then add a light medicine ball partner-throw/catch to the twist.
Tape Line Hops (6 x variations with 30 second rest between)
Put 3-4 meters of masking tape on the floor in a straight line. Have your client perform a series of low-level rapid-fire hops over and down the line. The major focus point here is QUICKNESS and foot speed. Not enough to tax the muscles plyometrically, but enough to fire-up the nuerons and fast twitch fibres at a variety of angles:
- Side to side
- Front to Back
- 180 Degree Rotation over the line
- One Footed
- Eyes Closed
Swiss Ball Challenges (4 x 20 seconds with 20 second break between)
I start my athletes with sitting on the ball (holding on to something for balance if necessary), then progress to kneeling, then standing on the Swiss Ball. Similar to the Wobble Board, at each stage I have them first establish simple still balance, and then I introduce deliberate movement to the stance (as pictured below with side-to-side kneeling action). A huge emphasis is put on maintaining posture throughout all movements, and I would strongly advise you beginners to start out well clear of any hard or pointy surfaces. When the ball rolls, it rolls fast.
- Sitting with assistance
- Sitting unassisted
- Sitting with deliberate motion (isolated pelvic circles, figure 8’s, etc…)
- Kneeling Still (see picture)
- Kneeling with deliberate motion (see picture)
- Standing (All standing Swiss Ball movements will be covered in a later article. In the mean time, refer to Pual Chek’s Swiss Ball video’s for good ideas.)
- Standing with Deliberate arm motion (throw/catch a ball, arm swings, twists)
- Standing Squat
Foreward / Backward Lunge Progression (3 x 6 F/B with 30 sec rest between)
The lunge is a great assessment of your body’s ability to move in space, and serves as an excellent warm-up for a lot of leg exercises. Again, a huge stress on maintaining posture and carriage throughout the movements, and all focus on executing all backward steps to mirror the forward steps in pace and stride length. Lunge steps should create a vertical shin for the front foot, and 90 angles in both knee joints. Follow the progression to suit your level.
- Hands on Hips
- Lunge with Twist (exhale on rotation)
- Plate-Press above head
- Eyes Closed