The purpose of any physical preparation routine should be to optimise performance in the upcoming session or competition, while decreasing the risk of injury.
Traditional warm-ups have typically included light aerobic movement followed by static stretching, and while this approach is successful in raising body temperature, it does not contribute sufficiently towards reducing injury risk, and certainly not towards optimising performance. One of the biggest challenges we face is that living in a sedentary culture and spending such a significant proportion of our waking day in a seated position, locks down our hips in particular and creates asymmetries in our bodies, which leads to dysfunction. When the body lacks stability and/or mobility, the result is inefficient movement patterns and energy leaks. This leads to both a decrease in performance and to a greater risk of injury.
It makes sense for these reasons, to incorporate components of preparation to our warm-up, that helps restore both dynamic mobility and joint stability. This is the primary purpose of the first block of every session within our training plans, and what we call Movement Prep.
Movement Prep aims to activate and strengthen the torso, shoulders and hips, while restoring range of motion before progressing to more challenging movements. A stable torso is better able to capture energy and transfer force, making the body more efficient at producing power, speed, and endurance. Similarly, optimal joint range of motion enables the body to move as it should, while using minimal energy. Tightnesses around the hip & shoulders in particular, most often caused by hours spent working at a desk, carrying backpacks or sitting in a car seat, result in poor posture, robbing athletes of power and even affecting their breathing and aerobic capacity. Thankfully, there are positive changes that can be made here. Even in a matter of minutes, as part of a well structured routine, much stability and mobility can be restored. The result of this is improved movement patterns and subsequently enhanced performance in the session or competition that follows. This somewhat temporary upgrade, allows for muscles to be used and strengthened throughout a greater range of motion, which helps to “cement” the positive effects of these movements, leading to longer term benefits.
The first element of our Movement Prep routine will most often comprise of self massage, or what is commonly known as self myofascial release. This typically involves the use of a roller, massage stick or some variation of ball, to apply pressure to a muscle. The aim here is to aid the release of trigger points [or knots] in a muscle, which can contribute to tightness.
As a general guide, a foam or soft roller is best to begin with. Pressing on or rolling over trigger points can be quite painful, but you will notice that if you give the time and gradually increase the pressure applied, the discomfort will subside as the trigger point is released. Where there is no area in need of specific attention, we recommend 10-12 slow passes over each major muscle group before progressing to the next component of the Movement Prep routine.
Active Isolated Stretching or AIS, is the main form of stretching we prescribe in our Movement Prep routines. AIS involves isolating the muscle to be stretched and holding each stretch for two to three seconds. When performing these movements its important to relax and exhale on the stretch, and to inhale gently on the release. The muscle to be stretched is isolated by an active contraction of the opposite muscle or muscle group. For example, if aiming to stretch the hamstrings, (the muscles on the back of the thigh) you would actively contract the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thigh). As a result of this action, the hamstrings are signalled to relax. This provides a perfect environment for increasing range of motion.
Activation is an important element of Movement Prep to improve the recruitment of important stabiliser muscles which often have been relatively inactive for long periods of time throughout the day. A typical example of this is the gluteal muscle group [three muscles which make up the buttocks: the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus]. These muscles are crucial to ensuring optimal movement patterns. For this reason, special attention is given to the activation of the gluteal muscles, to optimise performance and to reduce the risk of injury, particularly the knee which is stabilised from the hip, and the hamstrings which depend on the glutes to be a prime mover in hip extension.
The final phase of Movement Prep brings all aspects of the routine together and involves large multi-joint movements which require both mobility and stability. These movements optimally prepare the body for exercises performed under resistance, or for the next phase of the warm-up for more dynamic sporting environments.