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  • Mandy Willis

Warmups.... What’s the point?

Finding yourself going through the motions before a workout? Knowing you should be doing your warm-up, but not really sure why or what you get out of it? Are you physically present but off in your mind thinking about the weekend or what to have for dinner? Or even skipping your warmup all together? Let us help you answer the question: ‘What’s the point of a warm up?’


Firstly, let’s establish what a warm-up is. A warm-up is exactly what it sounds like. Lower intensity movement to prepare the body for activity that requires higher level of skill, intensity, or longer duration of movement than tasks of daily living. It prepares our body both physiologically and psychologically to reduce risk of injury and enhance our performance output.


Some of these ways include:

  • Enhanced lung expansion and ability to exchange oxygen into blood stream for working muscles whilst excreting build-up of by-products through our breath out.

  • Increased blood flow to enable improved delivery of nutrients to working muscles, including oxygen, glucose (carbohydrates), amino acids (proteins) and ATP (quick acting energy source).

  • Increasing core body temperature to improve metabolic rate. Our thermal environment (or how warm our muscles are), directly impacts our ability to produce velocity and power-based movement (Olberding Et. Al., 2017).

  • Improved neuromuscular control, or the speed of communication between the brain and muscles to enhance coordination, skill execution and faster contraction rate of muscles.


Mobility versus stretching


It is a common misconception that mobility and stretching are one in the same, however they are both quite different concepts. Flexibility is measured as a muscle or group of muscles ability to lengthen passively through range of motion.


Mobility is measured by the ability of a joint to move actively through range of motion. This is achieved not only by the flexibility of a muscle, but also the ability of a joint to move through its available range of motion. It is dynamic and also takes into consideration the motor control within the nervous system.


Studies have proven mobility to be more effective at maintaining greater range of motion than traditional stretching due to its focus on movement and motor control, rather than static stretching. Mobility work is optimal during a warmup. You’ve likely heard us throw around the phrase “motion is lotion” here at Evolved Physio, and this is very relevant to this conversation.


Moving joints through range of motion will lubricate joint surfaces and enable greater range of motion more freely. This will enable you to train in less restricted range of motions and enable you to improve strength further into range optimising the strength and resilience of a muscle through greater degrees of movement.


Pre-activation exercises


Pre-activation exercises are another component of a warm-up and should be completed prior to your working effort. Pre-activation exercises are intended to increase the amount of activity within a muscle prior to performing the demands of desired activity or sport.


Low intensity, higher volume muscle contractions under resistance such as a resistance band are often used in many settings to activate muscles. Studies have shown that pre-activation exercises increase in mean peak EMG activity following pre activation exercise (electrical activity of a muscle during forceful contraction) (O’Halloran et. al., 2017).


This increase in electrical activity means a greater portion of the muscle tissue actively contributing to the contraction/movement and therefore improving the efficiency of the movement (O’Halloran et. al., 2017).


If more of the muscle is active, more of the muscle tissue is theoretically exposed to strength adaptations which can reduce potential for injury due to underlying strength deficit or under recruitment of motor units (O’Halloran et. al., 2017).

This motor unit recruitment is thought to be the major mechanism to generate additional forces of 40-80% of maximal voluntary contraction of muscle, meaning you are getting more out of your lifts in the gym with a good pre-activation routine (Schaefer et. al. 2019).





Image via: https://www.lecturio.com/concepts/skeletal-muscle-contraction/


Other than motor unit recruitment described above, other factors that influence potentiation of muscle contraction during activity include:

  • Muscle stiffness, which is the passive mechanical property of a muscle (not muscular tightness). Studies have shown an increase in the passive stiffness of a sarcomere (smallest functional unit of a muscle fibre) increasing residual force potential following pre-activation.

  • Pain inhibition: a withdrawal reflex process that occurs when the brain inhibits muscle activity in response to pain or painful stimuli, which can be due to an injury or neural tension for example.

  • Neural tension or irritation along the pathway of peripheral nerves can cause pain inhibition of muscles as it pierces or travels past, affecting ability to generate optimal muscular contraction. Consult with your physio on ways to improve neural tension to incorporate into your warm-up routine to ensure you’re optimising your workout potential.

  • Injuries include anything from a niggle/nagging tightness through to damaged tissue from mechanical stress (i.e. strained muscle, sprained ankle etc). Ensure you’re addressing any niggles with your physio and seeking advice on ways to optimise movement/recovery in that area to ensure you’re minimising your risk of greater injury that sidelines you from activity for an extended period of time.


So, what’s the point?


It’s plain to see from above, there are many wonderful benefits of warming up prior to commencing your exercise/activity. From getting the most out of your workout to reducing your risk of injury and everything in between; you’ll feel better, move better, and gain better from incorporating a warmup into your routine. It is important to focus on your movements during a warm up, especially in the mobility and pre-activation phases to ensure we are connecting those mind-muscle communication pathways so we can reap all those neuromuscular benefits during our training.


What is the perfect warm up, you ask?


Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” approach. It needs to be specific to the type of training or skill that is about to be performed. A general rule of thumb includes some low intensity cardio, mobility and neuromuscular pre-activation. Static stretches should be reserved for after training/activity as it can inhibit performance and increase risk of injury if performed beforehand. Mobility during warm up should be dynamic and include areas and types of movement that will be required for the work block.


Happy training team!




References:

Olberding, J. P., & Deban, S. M. (2017). Effects of temperature and force requirements on muscle work and power output. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(11), 2017-2025.


Schaefer, L. V., & Bittmann, F. N. (2019). Muscular pre-activation can boost the maximal explosive eccentric adaptive force. Frontiers in Physiology, 10, 910.



Did you know that all Evolved Physio staff have university level exercise science degrees as well as their physiotherapy qualifications? We understand the demands that exercise and physical activity put on the body allowing us to throughly assess and treat based on your individual needs.

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