by Josh Bowen of Urban Active Fitness
Remember in PE class when they made all the kids reach and touch their toes or do the butterfly? This was our first introduction to flexibility and the “warm-up.” We did this primarily so we wouldn’t hurt ourselves before we played kickball or practiced some funky Latin dance (this one stood out to me as I can picture myself trying to Zumba in the fourth grade, terrible memory). Our teachers wanted our muscles and joints loose to prevent any injuries we may incur. But why? Why do we have to warm-up? What is a warm-up? Where does flexibility come in? Surprise! I’ve got the article for you! Sit back and relax while we discuss the most often overlooked part of our exercise programming.
Recently I was forced to pay close attention to the injuries I had accumulated over the past several years. I admit I am a stubborn individual with a high pain threshold. I do not like to miss a workout for any reason, let alone for injury. So I went to see a friend of mine with expertise in corrective exercise, the spine and lots of other areas. We went through several tests; measuring my range of motion, manual muscle testing etc. Then he asked the question, “JB, are you warming up prior to your workouts?” You got me doc! No! I wasn’t and it was taking a huge toll on my body; my hip flexors and hamstrings were tight causing some pelvic misalignment and my glutes were not firing as they should. I was also having some shoulder issues and to top it all off, I couldn’t do my favorite exercises effectively. Broken down before 30 all because I was not focusing on the areas that needed focusing. After several weeks of performing some dynamic stretching, focusing on my glutes and getting back to foam rolling, I am a new man! So to summarize all of this before you get going with your workouts here are some suggestions from someone that as experienced it firsthand…me!
1. There is a difference between static stretching and dynamic stretching. Here is the skinny: static is a stretch held in the same position for 20-30 seconds. Dynamic stretching is movement based upon the demands of your workout. For example, if I am going to do a lower body day I may warm up with some body weight lunges, bridges and high knees. Basically; this gets blood to the muscle, prepares the neuromuscular system for your workout and allows you to focus on opening your hip flexors up and activating your glutes. Regardless of what you workout, it is my advice to warm your hips up! Why? If you are sitting you to do a shoulder press you want your hip flexors loose, diaphragm muscles activating so you can press through a full range of motion overheard without killing your shoulders. If you are doing a lower body, you still want your hip flexors loose but you also want your glutes to fire. Your glutes are your powerhouse muscle, providing the most power of any muscle in your body.
2. Which is better static or dynamic? Research shows dynamic stretching is more specific and provides better results than static stretching. You can’t stretch a cold muscle is an old saying that stays true! Get your body moving before engaging in full on exercise! You will have more strength and power, I promise! Your connective tissue will thank you!
3. Foam roll. Go buy a piece of foam and roll out all major muscle groups! Illiotubial band (IT band) and hip flexors in particular. This will allow your muscles to relax so that they can be stretch.
4. Glutes, Glutes, Glutes. The powerhouse, the end all be all. Why is this muscle important? It is because most of us don’t use it! Its hard to use something that you constantly sit on. So when you are in the gym, concentrate on it. Your body will thank you and your lower back and knees just may send you an appreciation card. In reality no single muscular group has as much effect on the entire body as the glutes (throw the core in there too). When they are not firing correctly, your lower back and hamstrings have to compensate causing improper movement patterns and potential for injury. Get this muscle firing correctly and most everything will fall into place. PS I have no scientific research that states this, however I have practical application to fall back on and every time I had a client with back issues or knee problems, I worked on their glutes and their pain decreased tremendously. Go figure right!
5. Walking around the track or on a treadmill is not a warm-up. I am guilty of this one but you have to realize that walking around a track is probably not specific to your workout you are going to go through. It loosen the hip joint up a little but as far as stretching the hip flexors and activating the glutes it will not. Not bad cool down post workout to bring the heart rate down, but not as a workout so stop doing it!
In closing, from the beginning of elementary school we were taught how to stretch and taught the value of warming up. What we didn’t know is how big of a deal this was and how over time our bodies will fight against us if we don’t get moving. So take my advice, warm- up every time you workout. Make it part of your workout! Your body will thank you!
Yours in Fitness,
Josh Bowen will be joining Style & Wisdom every Monday for the next few weeks for a series of blog posts about obtaining maximum fitness results. Josh Bowen has been the Quality Control Director of Personal Training at Urban Active Fitness since 2007 and has trained and directed 400 trainers in 7 states. Josh has certified trainers, proctored hundreds of seminars and conference calls, and contributed to ten published articles about fitness. His mission is to spread the word of fitness to as many people as he can through personal training with a motto of "train, motivate, and inspire!" For more useful tips from Josh Bowen, you can find daily posts from him on Urban Active's blog.