Having played professional Volleyball for a number of years now, I have unfortunately been privy to some pretty horrible warm up routines that leave me colder and stiffer than when I started. I was prompted to write this as yesterday before practice, our physical conditioner had us jog 3 laps, perform a lot of sensationalist and then go straight into a modified game of basketball as part of the warm up. Naturally my recently recovered quad strain and my semi degenerated knee cartilage screamed out in warning. I know I’m getting old but a little warm up before the warm up perhaps?
The goal of a warm up will be different depending on what kind of a session you are doing. If you are getting ready for a weights session, you need your Type 2 fibers to be ready to go and produce max force. If you are about to step on the court for a volleyball session, you need to be ready to move quick and jump high. Although the outcomes are different depending on the activity you are about to do.
1. Get The Muscles Warm
No matter what you are doing you need to be warm. It sounds obvious but if I could get a dollar every time I see someone in the weights room jump on the bench press and go hell for leather, I’d be a very rich woman. Depending on the activity the warm up you need to perform will be slightly different, but the end result the same. The muscles need to be warm in order to produce speed, changes of direction, and force.
If you are in the weights room and about to squat, make sure that you perform adequate warm up sets. For a max lifting session you should do a minimum of three warmup sets, five is even better. For those on the court or about to do a speed or agility session, ensure that you warm up slowly enough that you are actually ‘warm’. Jog a little, move a little faster, move even faster again. You get the picture.
2. Static Stretch The Right Areas
What?! Static stretch. Quick hit the back button! No hold on a second. In general you should not perform a lot of static stretching before a workout. If you muscle is healthy then it will be at its optimal length for contraction when it is resting. Plus static stretching doesn’t really prime them for contracting at great speeds. That said, I believe static stretching has a place. There are a couple of areas on a lot of peoples bodies that need a bit of static stretching. The hip flexor stretch is a definite stretch you can do, and can be important especially for those needed to jump, squat and be explosive. Stretched and relaxed hip flexors allow the glutes to fire much more efficiently. Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds. If you have chronically tight areas you should also stretch them a little early on in the warm up. Just don’t do it directly before the activity.
3. Dynamic Stretch The Rest
So we worked out that in general static stretching should be avoided, but dynamic is spot on. I mostly like dynamic stretching because it keeps you moving and keeps you warm. Leg swings and arm rotation, inchworms and elbow to instep lunges are good examples of some dynamic stretches that should be a part of your warm up, especially for sports that you will need some agility and speed work.
This is not so important for weights sessions.
4. Perform Adequate Mobility
Mobility is something that no matter what you are doing, you need to include. Everyone has imbalances and tight areas, and mobility work is essential. It will very much be up to each individual and the nature of the workout to follow, but it must be included. A good example is for a squatting session, if you have tight calves and a lack of ankle range of motion chronically, you should get against the wall before you start your squat warm up and do some knee to wall work to ensure the mobility in your ankle is at least sufficient for the workout. In Volleyball you need to make sure your hips are ready and mobile and good to go for defense.
Mobility should be included in any warm up, depending on the activity and the inefficiencies of the participant.
5. Add In Some “Prevention” Work
Especially for team sports, I am a big advocator of getting just a little bit of prevention work in the warm up. You can use it as a good time to get a couple of key exercises in that nearly everyone needs. I like to do a bit of glute firing work, not only does it help my glutes to be warm and ready for the session and have them firing and ready to help me jump, but it also is an important part of my knee rehabilitation and keeps them healthy. Add 2 or 3 smaller exercises into your warmup, you are more likely to get them done prior to the workout, and you can use them as part of your warmup. Generally most people will need a bit more work through the posterior chain so some quick bridges and glute lifts will help any warm up.
6. Perform Relevant Movements
Your nervous system is a smart piece of work and you need to warm it up as well. It controls the muscles and motor patterns and getting it firing and ready for what is about to come will make your warm up 10 times more efficient. This mean you need to perform moves that you will be doing in the activity. Going to do a squat workout? Make sure you squat for warm up. Going to do an agility session? Ensure that you have change of directing work. About to hit the volleyball court? Jump, sprint and include changes of direction in the warm up. You don’t need to hit the treadmill for a squat session, sure you might warm up your legs a little temperature wise, but nothing else about them will be ready for a strong workout. Don’t waste your energy and be counteractive in the warmup. Include a lot of specific work.