The entire athletic world knows that getting the body ready with a great warm-up will help improve performance and stave off injury.
But that’s like saying, “It’s a good idea to save for retirement.” Yes, it’s a good idea, but putting it into practice is easier said than done. There are important things that need to be included in every athletes warm-up to maximize the return on the investment.
We hope to eliminate some confusion about the best pre-training routine, and define the what and why of the ultimate warm-up program.
The Immediate Benefits
For a long time, light jogging and stretching was commonplace in the warm-up to help “loosen” things up. We then learned that moving through ranges of motion was a better approach, this became known as a “dynamic warm-up.”
However, the dynamic warm-up can be made even better with targeted muscle activation, a term that requires some explanation.
It’s important to understand that the focus of muscle activation isn’t to create changes in the muscles, but instead a focus on what’s controlling the muscles. The muscles themselves are NOT turned off, and outside of rare nerve issues, your muscles will contract when they receive a strong enough signal from the nervous system.
However, telling the muscle to contract is not as easy as loading up a movement program in the brain and pressing play. First, the nervous system must gather a ton of information from the sensory receptors in the muscles, joints, and tendons, and based on that information tell groups of muscle fibers to contract.
Those sensory receptors are unaware that you want to perform a perfect lift. They are only aware of specific information in that region, such as a muscles stiffness, length, or potential damage.
Therefore the brain must organize a big movement—like a squat, olympic lift, or long throw— based on the last 8 hours of sitting, the effects of a previous workout, or sometimes the perception that there is damage in a certain part of the body. This all impacts movement outcomes.
Therefore, a better term for muscle activation, is actually Movement Activation.
It breaks down bigger movements down into smaller pieces, which allows the brain to dial in mobility and coordination within the body for better movement. It fires key muscle groups needed for the bigger lifts by generating new commands about muscle stiffness, range of motion, and what might cause pain if dealing with injury.
This “optimized movement” will then be better equipped to take on the demands of the activity at hand. With muscle activation the joints will feel more mobile and positions will feel more stable.
The Long Term Gains
Although the benefits of a great warm-up extend beyond just a great workout.
That’s because mastery happens with daily practice.
Without getting into the complexities of neuroanatomy, there is a simple truth that with practice you get better at things. It’s a sports performance fundamental that often gets overlooked in strength training.
Huge improvements in strength and movement happen by teaching the brain to control the muscles better. It’s an important reason why we get strong so fast in the first couple months of a workout program.
The brain improves its ability to:
- Contract more and bigger muscle sections
- Coordinate between muscle groups
- Increase the speed of communication from the nervous system to the muscles
Without practice and repetition, the brain gets stuck in a hole of limited movement solutions, which forces it to rely on only a few of the pieces. But after thousands of repetitions, movement patterns become more fluid as the brain learns to coordinate and use the many muscles of the body better.
The daily warm-up is a perfect time to do this movement training.
Not only will it optimize the body for the upcoming activity, it doesn’t have the the bigger, faster, stronger mentality of the actual workout. The goal of your warm-up has probably never been to hit your next warm-up PR! Therefore, the low intensity of the warm-up, is a chance to take a step back, and find a focus on improving movement quality.
The long term gains from the daily “movement practice” as part of the Crossover Primer, will yield benefits of optimizing movement and keeping the body healthy and pain free. These things are just as important as the the results you will get from that day’s workout program.
The Crossover Primer— “The Formula for Success”
There are 2 pitfalls that often plague warm-up programs.
- Too Little- Every warm-up should check the neurological and physiological needs to be maximally effective (we talk more about that here: The Must-Haves for Any Warm-Up). A 5 minute run with some squats and push-ups leaves out a ton of benefits that could be achieved by doing just a little bit more.
- Too Much- Too much complexity can be just as detrimental as not doing enough. First of all, throwing in a laundry list of exercises takes away from precious training and practice time. Secondly, an overly complicated warm-up is less likely to get done, therefore limiting the results. Lastly, gathering and setting up equipment, and then the time to learn new exercises, is often at the detriment of getting hot and getting moving.
Specific to the Crossover Primer, it’s designed it to get the body ready to go, while solving common movement impairments, in a way that’s easy to fit into an everyday training program.
It’s the ultimate solution to getting your body ready, along with a daily dosage of movement needed for a lifetime of health and performance.
The Crossover Primer
1. Get Warm
If your warm-up isn’t getting you sweaty you are missing out on easy performance gains. Getting hot improves metabolism, muscle contraction, and joint mobility. If it’s the middle of the summer this won’t be a problem, but even if it’s slightly cool or you are going to be indoors, start by throwing on a hoodie while going to the gym or field and keep it on as you progress through the remainder of the CS Primer.
(Note- Becoming overheated is detrimental to performance, especially for longer endurance events, so take off your warm-up attire as you start to get sweaty).
2. Increase Blood Flow
Start the Crossover Primer with some light aerobic work. Getting the blood flowing will help wake up the body and further support the warming phase.
It doesn’t have to be running or biking either. Take this opportunity to improve your athleticism with activities like speed ladders, running football routes, shooting hoops, jump rope practice, and other fun movement things. These activities will make you a better athlete and aren’t all that boring, so throw on a hoodie and start playing.
3. Muscle Activation
- CS Shoulder- 1 set of 7 exercises to improve shoulder movement.
- CS Hip and Core- 1 set of 8 exercises to engage the many stabilizers of the hip and core.
4. Dynamic Warm-Up
Everything to this point is a generalized plan to optimize movement for any sport or activity. It’s this foundation that will yield the most benefit long term, but will also have movement primed for the remainder of the training session. What’s best is that it can be done in less than 10 minutes if needed.
Moving forward it’s time to ramp-up into progressively more specialized movements for the activity at hand. If you are short on time or ready to get training, not a problem your body should be ready to go! Simply jump to step 5 to fast track the process.
(This is a good time to build in any favorite exercises for your specific activity. The examples below are specific to someone before they hit the weights.)
1. Mobility- Move through sport specific ranges of motion.
(Example- Wrist and Ankle Stretches, Lunge Matrix, Down Dog to Cobra, Thoracic Bridge.)
2. Speed- Turn on power and speed in different directions.
(Example- side shuffle, power skip, back peddle, carioca, high knees, butt kicks)
3. Ignite– Rev the engines by ramping up the intensity to 100%
(Example- 3 short sprints building in intensity, or 3 sets of 10 squat jumps)
4. Sport Specific Progression- A short time to practice movements that support the success in that activity.
(Example- Burgener Warm-Up; CompTrain Barbell Warm-Up: 5 Reps of Good-mornings, Back Squats, Elbow Rotations, Press, Straight Leg Deadlift, and Front Squats; CrossFit Warm-Up: Samson Stretch, Overhead Squat, Sit Up, Back Extension, Dips, Pull Ups.)
5. Ramp Up– Get into the main workout things for the day but with a modified load.
(Example- If you’re doing back squats, do a few sets building up to the working weight.
Like a recipe for your favorite dish, this will soon become second nature as a way to get your body ready. And feel free to adjust to suit your preferences.
To get started, pick up the Crossover Primer package here: Crossover Primer Package
Included are all of the tools, training, and education you will need to implement a perfect prep strategy for your everyday training.