Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Developing a Proper Warm-Up

“If it’s important, do it every day.” – Dan Gable

I first heard (or I should say read) that quote in Dan John’s book Never Let Go. I recently read through it and found it very enjoyable and a great resource for coaches. On several occasions, John mentions this quote as his rationale for his warm-ups (in which he utilizes a variety of complexes and technical lifts to make sure there is enough repetition), which made me look over my own warm-up philosophy. First, I agree with both Dans (Dan’s? Dans’? I have no clue how to pluralize Dan, or if pluralize is even a word…irrelevant, back to the point) in that if something is important, it should be evident in your training. It makes sense. If ankle mobility is important for your athletes, then they should be getting hammered with ankle mobility work.

While I like the use of complexes, and even include them myself sometimes, there are many other factors that go into my warm-up routines. There are three basic goals of any warm-up I create – ready the nervous system for activity, prepare the tissues and joints for action, and address any imbalances in the kinetic chain.

Prepare the Nervous System – Ever try to function at a high rate the moment your alarm goes off in the morning? We all know it’s difficult to go from 0-100 instantly (unless you’re an “early bird” type, but no one likes you anyway. Let us hit snooze and drink our coffee in peace). Why would it be any different for training? Walking into the gym, my body isn’t ready to jump into a set of heavy presses or pull a few hundred from the ground. Prep the CNS/PNS with similar movements at lower intensity to reintegrate the proper firing pattern and activation of the muscles. Complexes are great here, grab a barbell and move through a few lifts you’ll be doing in the workout, allowing your body to recognize the proper firing pattern.

Prepare the Tissues & Joints – Same concept as above, only now we’re focused on the musculoskeletal system rather than the nervous system. There’s endless debate about static and/or dynamic stretching prior to activity, but I’m not going to get into that here. The truth is, what works for some, doesn’t work for others. Act accordingly. I prefer a dynamic warm-up that allows the body to go through full range of motion in a controlled setting. I’ve found it helps get the proper amount of ROM and flexibility – not too much, but ensuring a safe range.

Address any Imbalances – This is something I recently added after learning the NASM Corrective Exercise material. There is a pattern of common muscles that are chronically overactive/tight, which has led their antagonists to become inhibited/lengthened. These imbalances typically lead to overuse injuries or other chronic issues. The warm-up is an excellent time to address these imbalances with inhibition or activation exercises in order to teach proper muscle firing patterns. If an athlete’s knees cave in during a squat, then their adductors are likely overactive and external rotators (i.e. glute med) are underactive. Inhibiting the overactive muscles with foam rolling and activating the weakened muscles can lead to improved movement patterns. These activation exercises allow the normally inhibited muscles to be integrated into more complex movements and maintain the integrity of the kinetic chain.

The concept is the same – if it’s important, do it every day – however, what I determine to be important is slightly different from Coach John. Many of the athletes I work with are in football, basketball, and baseball – all of which have high rates of overuse injuries (hamstring strains, jumper’s knee, rotator cuff impingement, etc.), which can hopefully be minimized by proper training. Grey Cook and Michael Boyle both stress the importance of proper movement patterns and that most injuries are due to a deficit or imbalance elsewhere in the kinetic chain.  Therefore, it’s important to train the body to be able to properly handle the stresses and movements of the sport.

These are my areas of focus when preparing an athlete for a training session. Pre-game or practice warm-ups share the same principles, but through different actions, as the athletes are preparing for different movements and actions. As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, please feel free to contact me at anytime.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES


  1. Great post. I agree with you. Do it every day.

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