You're not old; you didn't stretch

You walk in for your workout, and that same nagging pain kicks in. Joints feel stiff and new aches that weren't the week before are there. It's easy to blame your age, but when your warm-up consists of bending your knees to see if they still work and violently twisting your spine a few times, I'm not surprised you feel old. 

Our lives get easier as we age. We get cars and move up the corporate ladder. We move less, and our range of motion becomes limited. Things like squatting and reaching overhead are not a job requirement for most people. A training principle is "if you don't use it, you lose it." This principle applies to movement, skill, strength, muscle size and more.

Think about the last time your kid played or went to the park. They probably ran, jumped, climbed, or maybe crawled. When was the last time you did any of that? And frequently enough to not look like a crocodile doing a death roll? 

Did you hear about that guy that didn't play for over a decade, joined a beer league team and hurt himself? He wasn't old; he didn't warm up.

 

I like to classify warm-ups into different categories:

  • Mobility 
  • Stability/bracing
  • Muscle Activation
  • Movement/tissue prep
  • Nervous system prep

 

Mobility is the ability of a joint to move through its range of motion. There are two types; active range, which you can control, and passive range when relaxed or assisted. The flexibility of our tissues affects the passive range. Our passive range of motion is greater, and while you can increase this, our goal for the active range is to achieve what we can passively. 

 

This is important because if your tissues can't stretch out, which allows your joint to mobilize, we won't be able to perform exercises safely. Compensation can happen when stable joints become mobile, leading to injury. Lacking hip mobility in the deadlift can lead to rounding of the spine.

 

You can designate joints as stable or mobile. Stability training can happen before mobility and, most times improves mobility. Take the dead bug, for example. The goal is to move the arms and legs while stabilizing the spine and resisting extension. Another goal is to stabilize the hips, resisting an anterior pelvic tilt. 

 

 

Hip stability would involve controlling your pelvis. The spine and the pelvis are called the sacroiliac joint, more commonly referred to as the SI Joint. The hips can tilt forward, back, up & down. Exercises like step downs or dead bugs can help with this. The more stability you have, the more potential strength you have.

 

An unstable joint won't be a very mobile joint. Take the shoulder. Without strong back muscles to control the shoulder blade, the rotator cuff and deltoid wouldn't be able to move the arm overhead. Learning to control the shoulder blade position with prisoner shoulder rotations or kettlebell halos can help train this. 

 

Muscle activation is different from stability. We focus on contracting a specific group of muscles versus keeping the body or parts stable despite distraction or turbulence. Activating the glute muscles helps with hip extension, which is integral for proper squatting and deadlifting. Without the hip extension, your low back, a stable area of the body, will shift. For somebody with a winging scapula, scap push-ups can help muscles like the serratus anterior rotate the shoulder blade upwards, allowing for more movement overhead.

 

Every person has issues that come with our activities of daily living. Painters may have shoulder issues from repetitively lifting their arms overhead, while those working in an office may have tight hips, shoulders and neck muscles from sitting all day. Finding what muscles you need to activate can make the next phase of the warm-up; Movement and tissue preparation

Jumping on a bike or treadmill is a traditional way of increasing the body's temperature and redirecting blood flow to the muscles. These exercises prepare the tissues for the exertion and decrease the chances of injury. However, I feel that this approach lacks specificity. Instead, I prefer to put together a sequence of movements replicating aspects of the day's workout. For example, if it were a deadlift day, I would program something like:

  • World's Greatest Stretch
  • Racked Kettlebell Carry
  • Cossack Squat with arm raise 

 

The idea is to prepare your body for a training session without fatiguing it. My clients make a big mistake by spending too much time doing traditional cardio. Some will spend more than 20 minutes when only about 3-5 is needed. I'm not saying you can't be on there for that long before your training; run your little heart out. It will affect your strength, power and endurance, though. 

Better use of that time would be doing exercises that improve neural drive. Think of this as the ability of the body to make muscles contract. Potassium and Sodium are chemical messengers that help the brain make these contractions happen. That's why they are in all the sports drinks, and you were told eating a banana helps with cramping. 

To spike neural drive before we can try things like balancing. Stand on one foot and hold the position for 20 seconds. Easy? Close your eyes.

 

Hold a plank with one arm for 10-20 seconds while keeping your shoulders and hips level; you can alternate between making it more challenging.

 

Dead hangs are a personal favourite. Hold on to a bar for as long as possible. Hold your bent knees up at waist level to make it more challenging. Still not hard enough? Hold a kettlebell on the end of your foot.

 

Warming up doesn't need to take a long time either. If done correctly, 10-20 minutes is ideal. The consistency it will bring to your workouts and daily living will serve you well until you are old.