“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
I’ve received many questions as of late asking, in essence, what it is that I consider to be the proper method and duration for an adequate warm-up. The truth of the matter is that — like the workout methodology itself — there is no one-size-fits-all, correct answer. There are, however, a couple of basic, all-encompassing statements I can make about a proper warm-up, and those would be:
(1) make the warm-up ballistic and/or dynamic in nature, (2) make it intense enough, and of a long enough duration (but not longer), so that you’re primed (CNS and muscle/ligament structure) and ready for the actual meat of the workout, and (3) I’d much rather see someone go a little overboard on the warmup than to short-change the endeavor. Take it from someone who is (your choice) either (a) hard-headed or (b) just plain dim-witted enough to have made this mistake (and more than once, I hate to admit); just about every sporting injury I’ve suffered since my actual on-the-field days can be traced back to a poor warm-up prior to the injury.
That said, when the warm-up is completed, your body ought to be primed to explode, and this includes the central nervous system. Long, slow and passive stretching is no way to accomplish this task, as this type of stretching actually blunts the body’s speed/power response — the antithesis of what you want prior to hitting it hard and heavy in the gym or on the field or track. Reserve static stretching, if you still wish to incorporate it, into the cool-down session. I believe that yoga and yoga-like stretching is a fabulous workout in and of itself, and can be a useful augmentation to a successful power-oriented, exercise program at certain distinct points within the overall marocycle (or even a stand-alone program in the right circumstance). These types of movements are not, however, good lead-in’s to a dynamic, power-oriented session. A skilled carpenter chooses the correct tool for each particular application, and methodology-matching for various training applications is no different.
I can tell you this: I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time warming up. The fact that I don’t have the luxury of extra time to spend dilly-dallying has much to do with this. The other thing is that I don’t particularly like to spend much time warming-up; I’d rather get to “the good stuff” as soon as possible. Another thing I can tell you is that I’m not one to “ease” into my warmup, even prior to my early morning workout sessions. For example, most mornings the first thing I do at the gym is alternating 20 meter skips and sprints. The only “ease in” I incorporate is that I begin at about a 3/4 effort for the first 2 or 3 efforts. After that, it’s full throttle, game-on. In fact, many have mentioned to me things along the line of “damn, man — don’tcha warm-up before your workout?” Uhh, well, this is my warm-up…
Now, while I might not have the luxury of time, I do have the luxury of a 200 meter (roughly) indoor track at my facility, so the bulk of my warm-up, even prior to a weight session, is comprised of short sprints, skips, lunges, ballistic toe-touching and such. Usually, I’ll throw in a few reps and varieties of power pull-ups as well. Check out this video clip from Mike Young of EliteTrack, as he talks about a lot of the stuff that I like to incorporate into my own warm-up sessions. These are the kinds of warmup exercise I do directly out of the chute, even on those before-the-ass-crack-of-dawn sessions. Also, Mike has an informative companion article, here. Then, if my session involves hitting the weights, I’ll perform a round or two of the Bergener Warm-up. From there, I might do a round or two of my actual workout for the day, building up to my working weight for that particular session’s exercises. I can tell you that, as a rough gauge, my warm-ups, even on the coldest of days, rarely last longer than 15 minutes or so. I am, however, in constant motion during that time.
Curious as to how a world class sprinter goes about warming-up prior to a working session? Well, here are a couple of video clips of Asafa Powell and Powell’s (and the MVP club of Jamaica) coach, Steven Francis going through a pre-workout warmup routine. Notice how none of the sprinters in these clips would necessarily be considered outlandishly flexible. I think there is most deffinately a point of diminished returns when it comes to flexibility and speed and/or strength. Also note that “flexibility”, per se, is not the point of the warmup routine — properly priming the CNS, musculature, ligaments and supporting structure, along with increasing the body’s core temperature (and an increased heartrate) is the focus and only goal of the pre-workout warmup.
…and part 2
And you certainly don’t have to have an indoor track available to perform an adequate warm-up. Just be creative, with exercises such as the Russian Lunge Scissor Jump, for example, are great ways to warm-up. The take home point here is that the pre-workout warmup ought to be ballistic manner, and challenging enough to prime your CNS and raise your core temperature; cool down, if you wish (I don’t, but that’s just my preference) with whatever passive stretching you feel you need.