Is Your Warm Up Making You Weaker?

Everyone has an opinion on the best way to warm-up. Do this, don’t do that… walking the line between being “warm” and the fear of being “too tired” to actually workout, afterwards. Should we stretch? Should we do cardio? I’ll do my best to address all these questions and concerns and also shed some light on why we warm-up the way we do, at CrossFit 269. Being that we consider ourselves as much a “school of movement” as we do a “CrossFit gym”, being able to move well is vital, not only to performance but, to overall health and wellness. Human movement is dependent on the amount of range of motion (ROM) available in synovial joints. In general, total ROM may be limited by 2 anatomical entities: joints and muscles. Joint restraints include overall joint shape or geometry and congruency, as well as the capsuloligamentous structures that surround the joint.

Different Ways to Warm Up

Let’s start by setting SOME parameters on warm-up options. The four basic methods we’ll discuss today will be Dynamic Stretching, Static Stretching, PNF Stretching and Aerobic Activity. Moving forward, we’ll define the term “warm-up” for the activity(ies) completed prior to your actual workout, for further reference. Now that we have set some guidelines, let’s talk about each of the four in detail, the benefits and drawbacks of each and how to get the most out of each.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching can be divided into two categories, active and ballistic. Active stretching generally involves moving a limb through its full range of motion and repeating reps. (Like a downward dog, in yoga.) Ballistic stretching is essentially ‘bouncing’ into and beyond your full otherwise limited ROM; it has been associated with increased injury and risk, so isn’t generally used as often. (Think squatting to full depth, then bouncing with aggressive force to push the body into greater depths of stretch/ROM.)

The Good:

Dynamic stretching is not associated with strength or performance deficits, and actually has been shown to improve measurable power output, as well as jumping and running performance. It is also shown to increase ROM with the same effectiveness as both static and PNF stretching.

The Bad:

None, really. Dynamic stretching is a fantastic way to WARM the body and simultaneously train and increase ROM.

When to use it

In your warm-up, everyday. It accomplishes all of the good things we want, with none of the negative effects. Warms up the body, increases heart rate and blood flow, and helps improve ROM.

Static Stretching

Static Stretching is the most common form of stretching and is defined as where a specific position is held with the muscle on tension to a point of a stretching sensation and repeated. Think bending over to a forward fold and stretching the low back and hamstrings, usually counting to “10.” It should be noted that the greatest change in ROM with a static stretch occurs between 15 and 30 seconds.

The Good:

Effectively increases ROM.

The Bad:

Static stretching as part of a warm-up immediately prior to exercise has been shown detrimental to measured muscle strength and performance in running and jumping movements. The loss of strength resulting from acute static stretching has been termed, “stretch-induced strength loss. To reinforce that, stretching before you lift can make you perform WORSE.

When to use it

After you workout. Static stretching is a great cool-down. It offer all the positive effects of improved ROM while having zero effects on our training. It’s also a great way to help relax and bring the heart rate back down. I recommend some relaxing yin style yoga, like ROMWOD. Relax, stretch passively and breath deeply.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

PNF stretching is generally performed by having the client/athletes contract the muscle being used during the technique at 75-100% of maximal contraction, holding for 10 seconds, and then relaxing the muscle. So stretch to (near) full ROM, contract/activate the muscle group vs resistance, then relax back into full ROM.

The Good:

PNF is also equally effective at improving ROM over time vs static and active. The better – PNF has the highest increase in acute or immediate ROM. In other words, it makes you the “most flexible” the fastest, think immediate results.

The Bad:

The acute results don’t last. They also allow you to reach greater ROM than your body us used to and therefor, oftentimes compromises strength and performance, much like static stretching.

When to use it

When movement and increased ROM is more important and performance. This is dependent on your personal goals. Are you more dedicated to moving better or moving a new PR weight?

Notes

It should also be noted what the most crucial part in the “warm-up” process is WARMING UP the body. Movement, increased blood flow, and increased heart rate. Actually completing a light workout. Also, many of the negative effects of static and PNF stretching were neutralized when paired with actual warm-up exercises. In other words, get on a rower, go for a jog, hit 10min on the assault bike, and even include some burpees or jumping jacks. If you’re concerned with your warm-up affecting your workout, think about what you’re saying… you’re working out too hard before you workout. You’re at the gym to workout. If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to workout.