I can remember my first ever P.E. coach. Her name was Coach Rowan. Every single day from Kindergarten all the way through 6th grade, I did the same warm up stretches. The sit and reach stretch was a good one back then. Oh, and the shoulder stretch where you reach behind your head and across your body was a staple back then. Luckily for us and everyone else that we train, information has drastically changed and we really don’t use those anymore, at least not in the same ways. As a matter of fact, there are very few movements where we are trying to lengthen muscles as far as we can in any warm up. Why is that?
Well, first and foremost, stretching anything cold is just not a great idea. Have you ever taken a steak out of the freezer and tried to pull it apart? If you were to do that, what happens? It just breaks apart right, like, literally right in half. Think of that as a muscle that hasn’t been warmed up. When you come to the gym, you may stretch because you feel like you need to. Does this mean we don’t want to stretch any muscles? No. It just means there are different ways that we can activate muscles with targeted movements.
In our warm ups, we are simply trying to get the core body temperature to rise so we are not working with “frozen meat.” Stretching does have a purpose in activation, but it’s really the stretch reflex. Now I could get scientific on you and start talking about the Golgi Tendon Apparatus and its function in a muscle cell, but instead I’m just going to say that stretching doesn’t create the best activation of the muscle. There are so many other movements that can prepare a muscle, even create flexibility without stretching.
When you participate in a warm up at Forward Fitness, you move through what we like to call a “movement matrix.” You start on your back, move to your stomach, then to “all fours,” up to the knees, and finally to a standing position. Through these positions, we activate muscles. We require muscles to turn on as opposed to just stretch. This allows blood to flow to the muscle and can actually create better flexibility and mobility just from warming up the tissue.
Through every position, form the ground to standing, you may also notice that we use a flexibility/mobility exercise followed by a stability/ strengthening exercise. We purposefully do this to increase the performance of a certain muscle group or area of the body. An example would be doing the side lying windmill movement on the floor, combined with a dying bug movement pattern. Here you get mobility with the side lying windmill, followed by stability with the dying bug. This allows us to wake up the body through motion as opposed to just aimlessly stretching and saying, “Alright, I’m ready to go!”
As much as I enjoyed my elementary P.E. class and Coach Rowan, things have changed. I look back and realize, there could have been so much more going on in those warm ups. Essentially, they could have been not only way more effective, but way more fun. I mean, let’s be honest, what child, heck, what adult, truly wants to sit around and just stretch? I know I don’t. That’s why a truly good warm up that creates heat and activates muscles and areas of the body properly is far more than an average stretching routine. Get your body moving during your warm up. After all it is called a WARM up.