A bad beginning makes for a bad ending
Article by Rob Aitken
Matt Roberts Chelsea
What is the most important part of an effective workout? Many may say it's how hard you work, while others may argue that technique and form are more important. It's a big question and there are probably many coaches and trainers out there who would give different answers and present compelling arguments to back up their views. For me, a workout will never reach its potential without an appropriate warm up.
Over recent years warm up techniques have probably developed and changed more than any other part of a modern workout. Unfortunately these techniques and their benefits are taking a long time to filter to the masses. For your average gym disciple it's more than likely that their warm up is going to consist of 5 minutes of easy running or cycling and possibly some basic static stretches. With today's modern lifestyle taking its toll on our bodies, with more sitting, poor posture and less movement altogether, this type of approach simply isn't maximising the time we allocate for exercise preparation.
The main reason we warm up is to reduce the risk of injury and so you could argue that some easy cardio and stretching will achieve this. But what if you could reduce the risk of injury, enhance power output, improve movement quality and posture and exercise at a lower heart rate for a given workload, all through adding some simple techniques to your warm up? Well you can, and the following 3 categories cover the different techniques we use here at Matt Roberts to get our clients ready for a great, effective and safe workout.
1. Soft Tissue Work or Self Myofascial Release
For this part of exercise preparation we use a foam roller and something like a tennis ball, baseball or lacrosse ball. By placing various parts of your body on top of the roller or ball you can apply pressure in a controlled way to different areas of soft tissue. The aim of self myofascial release (SMR) is to improve the tone and quality of your muscle tissue and fascia (the tissue wrapped around your muscle). It's essentially self massage and helps to breakdown the build up of fibrous scar tissue caused by friction between tendons, ligaments and bone. Used frequently i.e. before every work out and on off days, over an extended period of time i.e. forever, SMR helps muscle tissue and fascia to become more pliable. This can eventually lead to better muscle function through a greater range of motion and ultimately better movement. Add to this the bonus of improved muscle recovery and a possible reduction in joint pain and it's difficult to see why you shouldn't used SMR techniques.
Key areas on the body that most people need to focus on are, the bottom of the foot (ball) the calves (ball), the insides, front, back and outsides of the upper leg (roller), the front of the hip and bum (roller or ball), the thoracic spine (roller), the back of the shoulder (ball or roller) and the chest.
2. Muscle activation drills
This is where we incorporate low level exercises to help 'switch on' key muscles that may have become dormant. In our everyday lives we all guilty of making poor quality repetitive movements and as a result certain muscles don't get used and can 'switch off'.
Common examples of this are the glutes or the muscles in your bum. People can end up over working muscle groups like the hamstrings as well as having a poor hip position during certain movements all because they don't use their glutes properly. Over time this can lead to a whole host of problems and so it's vital to get the glutes fired up before you start exercising.
Other examples include the scapular retractors which are used to pull your shoulder blades together and can help to prevent a rounded upper back (which again can lead to a multitude of shoulder and elbow issues). The drills we use help to teach the dormant muscles to 'switch on' at the right time leading to better movement, better performance and ultimately better results.
Examples: Glute Raise
3. Mobility Drills
This part of the warm up crosses over a little with the activation work but the focus is more on taking your joints though a full range of motion in a dynamic and controlled manner. The drills aim to encourage mobile but stable movements so that the body becomes better prepared for dynamic exercise. Both stability and mobility are of equal importance and the drills aim to improve both of these simultaneously. Through regular and frequent practise these drills will gradually help an individual improve their dynamic flexibility, again leading to better movement, better performance and ultimately better results.
The important thing to remember with all these warm up techniques is that you need to take a long term approach to this type of preparation. It needs to be done frequently and diligently for it to have a positive impact on your training. A routine involving some SMR, activation drills, and mobility exercise should take no longer than 10minutes making it an efficient and productive way to start your training session. A great beginning makes for a great ending!
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