Is Your Fluffy Warm Up Wasting Your Time?
The Slippery Slope of Pre Training Physical Preparation
Do you warm up before your training sessions? By now, the answer is probably yes since the industry has force-fed you the idea of the dynamic warm up being the most pivotal aspect of training and fitness. But the more important question is how are those movements and exercises that you religiously perform before every session helping you move closer towards your goals? and are they aiding in producing optimal results in whatever your goals may be?
Even with the mainstream popularity of the dynamic warm up in the fitness and athletic performance industries over the course of the past decade, there are still many questions when it comes to the strategic results driven programming and executing a means of general physical preparation for training sessions.
While it’s clearn that implementing a dynamic warm up routine into your program can be a highly effective way to improve performance, decrease risk of injury and mentally prepare for the session ahead, it’s pretty easy to get carried away with placing too great of an emphasis on soft-tissue work, activation drills and corrective exercises that can literally lead you down an endless rabbit hole of fluff.
If you find yourself spending more time warming up than actually training, listen up. Majoring in the minors in your training program is a perfect way to produce sub par results, even if you are spending hour on end each week “in the gym” training.
An intelligently designed and sequenced warm up routine absolutely holds merit, but here’s why simplifying your pre-workout routine to the bare minimum will exponentiate your performance and injury prevention results and save you a hell of a lot of time in the process. Time to strategically trim the fat off your long and tedious warm up routine with surgical precision using clinical precision in your pre-training exercise programming.
The Dynamic Warm Up Turning Point
As a sports performance physical therapist who specializes in getting the very most out of my clients and athletes programming from an athletic performance, body composition and functional orthopedic standpoint, the warm up is pivotal. I’ve seen some amazing things from physio-esque warm up strategies and programming throughout the years, some good, some bad and some just an utter waste of time with no notable return on investment.
Coaches, listen up. Being known as the corrective exercise and functional movement guy is awesome if it works, don’t get me wrong. But if your clients are already moving well with no glaring dysfunctions or pain, is there really a need for all the trivial programming on top of a traditional strength and conditioning routine? Did you enhance an already functional movers functional capacity, or are you just trying to be the smartest guy in the room with deep theory based strategies that add nothing to the performance pyamid? I used to think corrective exercises and more concentrated and isolated movement remediation had its place in the warm up sequence for functional movers. But recently, here’s what changed my viewpoint on the subject.
My own pre-training routine was getting a little out of hand about two years ago. I have a little expertise in this niche in the industry, so it just made sense to use what I knew to program my own dynamic warm up routine before every big lifting day in my programming.
Long story short, I was spending nearly 25 minutes warming up before every session, and an additional 10 minutes in an active cool-down at the tail end of my training days. Hell, my thought was I have studied these techniques for decades, so why not practice them and keep them in my movement arsenal, right?
Simply put, enough was enough. For someone who makes a living programming training and regeneration strategies for clients all over the world including Gold Medal Olympians and NFL and MLB All-Stars, I’d let my own curiosity get the best of me in my own programming, tacking on a half hour to every single training day. At the end of the week, I was spending an additional four hours warming up and cooling down. But what was I really getting out of that time in terms of optimizing my physical performance or staying healthier through my training?
Lets get this straight. There is a time for professional development and practicing what you preach, but when your goals revolve around training, one must separate self study and mastery with a goal oriented physical practice such as training.
For someone with no notable previous history of injuries, no major dysfunctions and great requisite movement capacity, the entire pre training practice had just become absurd, and I was in need for a big change to simplify the warm up process while still reaping all the benefits of being perfectly prepped for performance. The breaking point was asking myself this question, “Was that four hours of concentrated movement preparation a week enhancing my performance, aesthetics, functional of recreational results, or did it just become a daily movement ritual with no underlying purpose or progression?” Well, since you’re reading this article I think you know that answer.
The No Warm Up Experiment
I had just about enough with the fluff. As you well know, time is one of the most precious commodities in life, and aimlessly pissing away multiple hours a week without anything to show for it was unforgivable. But how does one determine what is working and what is wasting time in terms of exercises in a dynamic warm up? Making conclusive determinations about a movement or exercise isn’t that simple, is it?
I decided to go back to my scientific roots and set a baseline for myself. Any time you carry out an experiment of N=1 with you as the lone subject, that’s perfect in my mind. In reality, you and your body are the only statistics that matter no matter what the most recent shiny research study may show. But if you decide to test and retest your findings based on your own experiences, setting a baseline to assess from is the first step.
Warm Up Intelligently on Dr. John’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program
It is of the utmost importance to determine a control group for your studies to compare to the variable that is being manipulated; in this case the dynamic warm up and it’s many components. This made perfect sense to me, it was time to literally do what every coach and therapist passionately preaches NOT to do – to ditch the dynamic warm up altogether, and determine my own functional and performance baseline.
My Surprising Results From Not Warming Up
After literally bringing my warm up and cool down time back down to ground zero, it was amazing what transpired with my own body and the results from my hard earned sweat dollars training every day. After four weeks or literally walking through the doors of the gym and starting right in on my strength program with nothing more than a few steps of “warm up” from the door to the power rack, my mobility, body composition, general level of recovery and freshness had never been better.
How the hell could this possibly be? Was the decade I spend in academia mastering movement anatomy, biomechanics and strategies for correction and optimization of function a waste of time and tuition dollars? Not quite, and here’s why.
Maybe All We Need Is Lifting
It’s important to first reiterate that I do not have any glaring physical issues that need increased focus, movement remediation and reinforcement. I simply was moving at a pain-free symmetrical and functional level before I re-calibrated my warm up baseline, and continued to move just as well while properly executing my big compound movements and smaller isolation moves with goals of improving my muscle mass and body fat composition while maintaining my function. This really opened up my eyes to something that my good friend and fellow coach, Charles Staley, had been saying for years, “Maybe all your need is lifting.”
Hitting the gym every day and knowing that you were not going to do any soft-tissue work, activation drills or mobility movements before or after training sessions put all the concentrated focus on the movement session itself. If you know for a fact that the only physical activity you have each day is traditionalist strength and conditioning work, you are going to make damn sure that your range of motions, tempos, strategic positioning and overall synergistic feel of movements need to be as close to perfect as possible. Simply put, you are going to make every single rep count, because it’s the only movement stimuli you’ll have in order to maintain and optimize your functional capacity.
Executing your current programming to the apex of your abilities will do amazing things to your results. Going through the motions not only in the warm up, but in the training session itself is quite easy. And yes, many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Guess what? Every time you lose your focused intent on executing a movement, you have limited the transference of that skill into sport of your daily life. Less emphasis on execution means limited results and increased risk of injury. The attention needs to be in the details.
People who have never trained with laser focus may perceive all movement to be the same, and just another way to get sweaty. But turning up the mental challenge of training was a game changer for me. I made it a game for myself every single rep, how perfect can I execute this movement? And to say that mindset worked would be a huge understatement.
The No Warm Up Results
I attributed my enhancement in body composition to my increased focus on my big strength movements in the beginnings of my training days, allowing me to mentally and physically push to a higher intensity set to set. All of the sudden, I was going in absolutely fresh into my most important lifts, and was able to push balls to the wall repeatedly with little neural or mechanical fatigue that I was causing myself in my prolonged warm up routines.
Doing something over and over to attain a goal, but in actuality working yourself further away from that goal is called shooting yourself in the damn foot, and that’s essentially what I’d been doing for years. Just think; you may be unknowingly doing that same thing. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone.
Once a lifter or athlete gets out of the novice stage of training and into the intermediate and advanced stages of a fitness and movement mastery, a major plateau breaker is found in the mental mind-muscle connection and the ability to push loads, reps and sets to the brink of absolute physical failure. That sounds pretty intense, I know. But when focusing on the major components of a training session, the focus and execution as close to your physical limits as possible is what will produce wanted physical adaptations in a more efficient manor.
Are Prolonged Warm Ups Predisposing You To Injury?
Now before you all jump onto my Facebook page to write me some nasty notes pertaining to my blasphemous claims, give this idea a fair shake. Through dropping down to my baseline of warm up and cool-down in my own training programming, I felt better from a joint, soft-tissue and neurological fatigue standpoint. This may go against everything that you thought you knew and love to teach and program yourself, but I am reporting my own self-case study here.
With many warm up routines, they are done with such high frequencies that the once novel techniques and movements have a decline in execution over time. After any movement strategy is somewhat mastered, there is no progression or way to overload these sequences. And many times, the movements that were at one point useful when executed at a mastery level become just another butchered half assed way to waste training time.
Majorities of people hit autopilot and just go through the motions. This is when a warm up routine can become dangerously close to a movement ritual with no rhyme or reason except for this is the routine that one has always used and had decent success with. But as we covered, you need to set a control and baseline to compare and contrast what is actually producing results. Remember that pre-post testing thing we talked about before? Yeah, it’s still important.
Sure, a warm up routine can look the same to the non-detailed eye whether it is completed this year or next, but what I’ve seen over the years with corrective movements, soft-tissue work and activation drills is they are highly dependent on internal tensions, synergistic stabilization and activation patterns and a high amount of focus and mental acuity to continue to produce the desired result.
Just as if you run every day, your body will get more efficient and thus reduce the caloric expenditure and benefit of cardiorespiratory health and capacity, the same can be said for warm up drills. As you do more of the same drill, your body adapts to that drill and without an increase in internal execution factors, your body becomes less adaptive to the same moves over time.
This is the same reason any new exercise is always perceived to be harder from your sympathetic nervous system response. Want to kick your own ass and justify any movement, do something new and novel, and compare it to what you’ve been doing.
So We Shouldn’t Warm Up Anymore?
This little self-study was just that, an experiment. No movement professional in their right mind would direct their patients and clients to avoid dynamic warm up routines for the long run, and justifiably so. The point of recalibrating my system was to determine the truly vital few classes of movements that produced notable results for my performance and prevention of injury overtime.
Slowly, I started implementing back in strategic strategies into my pre-training routine, and evaluating these techniques one at a time to gain insight into the objective successes I was having with each movement. This process continued for the last two years, and has lead to my new 6-Phase Pre-Training Sequence that I am quite proud of. And just like that, one single self-experiment has transformed itself into one of the most promising dynamic warm up sequences I have ever used.
So before you fall into your old habits in your pre-training routine, step back and assess the efficacy and efficiency of your practice. If you’re like me, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy in the strategic simplification process, and hell, even reap the benefits of better training sessions as a whole.
About The Author
Dr. John Rusin is an internationally recognized coach, physical therapist, speaker, and writer, whose published over 300 articles in some of the most widely regarded media outlets in the industry like Men’s Fitness, Testosterone Nation, Mountain Dog Diet, Bodybuilding.com, and Muscle and Strength, to name a few.
Along with an impressive laundry list of publications, Dr. John works with some of the world’s most elite athletes, including Gold Medalist Olympians, NFL All-Pro Quarterbacks, MLB All-Star Pitchers, Professional Bodybuilders and World Class IronMan Triathletes.
He takes pride in offering uniquely customized programming to clients of all walks of life in the exact same detail and passion as the Pros! Dr. John’s 12-Week Functional Hypertrophy Training Program is now available to you.
I like your points about neural fatigue, testing for effectiveness, and learning from sometimes radical n=1 experiments. However you sound like an outlier and I’m not sure how your experiences relate to the more average adult with various aches and pains, muscle imbalances, non-trivial wonky movement patterns, and less than stellar body awareness/ control. Thinking about the gray areas between rehab and training. There’s a possible rabbit hole when a lot of release, activation and mobility/patterning work is warranted, yet there’s still the limits of time and neural freshness. I suppose that’s when it becomes the art of knowing and testing what to apply when, in order to focus on which drills or movements are presently most effective (rather than mostly a demonstration of wonkiness), to save time and neural freshness for strength or otherwise progressive training based on the present capacity. Hmm kinda thinking out loud.