// Dynamic sport warm up for movement strength and power

by Douglas Brooks

Warming up before vigorous physical activity is a time-honoured tradition that many believe reduces injury and enhances performance

(Young and Behm 2002). That belief is research supported when the warm up is timed properly and the appropriate type of activity is used (Janot et al., 2007; and Kovacs 2006).

Key point 1:

Flexibility and performance are greatly impacted by the timing of the stretching/dynamic warm up in relation to the workout segment. Additionally, the type of stretching/warm up that is used during the preparatory period for activity or during a post-activity flexibility training segment is very important as it relates to:

1. Range of motion outcome (post-activity stretching)

2. Performance outcome (pre-activity warm up).

Key point 2:

Static flexibility training is best positioned in a workout session after warming up and after activity. This type of stretching should be focused on range of motion (ROM) gains, and is not best positioned to enhance improvements in performance (Janot et al., 2007 and Kovacs 2006).

Key point 3:

Warm up is different to stretching. Warm up precedes vigorous activity and prepares one for the upcoming workout. Traditional stretching or flexibility training should usually occur after an adequate warm up and after vigorous activity, when improved movement capability is desired. See ‘Where does pre-exercise stretching fit in?’ below.

Key point 4:

Studies of dynamic stretching/warm up that precede activity have shown significant improvements in acceleration, speed and agility (Janot et al. 2007). Dynamic warm up prepares the body for efficient and safe movement, as well as high level performance when performed before vigorous activity. This outcome, at this point in the debate, can be useful to consider when designing an appropriate warm up to improve performance and reduce injury as it relates to preparing an athlete or client for team or individual competitive sports.

Key point 5:

Future research… The duration and intensity of static stretching, as well as different types of stretching (e.g.; proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), ballistic) must be studied more to better understand the effect that they have on muscular endurance, strength and power (Franco et al. 2008).

Benefits of warming up

The benefits of warming up are numerous and include increases in the temperature of muscles and connective tissues, increases in ROM , reduced incidence and severity of injury, delayed onset of muscular fatigue, prevention and alleviation of muscle soreness, increased level of skill and muscular efficiency, and increased longevity of playing careers (Christensen and Nordstrom 2008). It is commonly recognised that warm up increases awareness, improves coordination, improves elasticity and contractibility of muscles, and increases efficiency of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

Static stretching compared to dynamic warm up

Enhancing flexibility has long been recommended as an important component of fitness, and with good reason. A dynamic warm up is not superior to flexibility training or stretching, it is simply different. Using static or PNF stretching during a warm up to prepare for movement and improved performance is increasingly coming under scrutiny, even though fitness participants and athletes continue to use stretches for warm up activity, believing their use will decrease the risk of injury and improve performance (Franco et al. 2008). However, the bulk of current research shows extended stretching before the rigorous portion of a workout or competition would have the opposite effect – increasing the risk of injury and decreasing performance.

Differentiating and understanding preparatory warm up versus flexibility training

• Warm up prevents injury and facilitates stretching gains, whereas stretching has no effect on preventing injury (Shrier and Gossal 2000).

• Static stretching does not facilitate acceleration, deceleration, speed and agility, which all influence power output. Power and strength correlate directly to performance.

• Static stretching ‘anesthetises’ or ‘puts the muscle/central nervous system to sleep’. (Fowles et al. 2000).

• Research (Janot 2007) suggests that warm up routines that use static, ballistic and PNF stretching do not enhance performance. Note: Controlled dynamic warm up is different when compared to ballistic movement.

• Concentrated static stretching before a vigorous workout can negate any warm up/preparatory period.

• Controlled dynamic warm up should precede vigorous activity;

  • When a high level of performance is required.
  • When the goal is to specifically prepare the body for upcoming activity.
  • When improvements in acceleration, speed and agility during exercise are the goal.

Where does pre-exercise stretching fit in?

In no way can broad recommendations be made to remove static or PNF or ballistic stretching from an athlete’s or client’s program, or warm up. However, the effect of extended pre-exercise stretching on exercise performance seems clear. But, decisions regarding preexercise stretching and its timing must always be made in a context-specific manner (Marek et al. 2005 and reported in Janot et al. pg. 49, 2007). All levels of function, from world class athlete to frail elderly, must be considered when determining whether or not pre-exercise stretching will be used. Post-rehabilitation clients or inactive older adults who have limited ROM may benefit from pre-exercise stretching,

or those who do not participate in vigorous workouts where high level performance is a desired outcome. For these participants, functional ROM would be prioritised over strength and power development, whereas the opposite would hold true for athletes and clients engaging in strength or power training activities. Finally, professionals must also consider the risk-to-benefit ratio when deciding on any exercise strategy (Marek 2005; Janot et. al. 2007).

Dynamic warm up program design

A warm up should prepare your clients’ and athletes’ bodies and minds for the upcoming activity. One can observe this scenario occurring every day at the highest level of professional sport. What looks like an amazing and effective dynamic pre-game warm up is mysteriously followed by 20-minutes of static stretching as the team regroups, effectively negating the warm up and any performance advantage it offered and increasing the likelihood of injury. Don’t make the same mistake with your clients, athletes, group fitness participants and teams.

Approximately 10 to 15 minutes of level/task-appropriate activity will activate the nervous system and prepare the body and mind without causing fatigue build-up that would be detrimental to performance. Experienced clients/athletes can perform 1 set of 12 to 15 reps, of about 10 to 15 exercises (or less, depending on duration of each exercise) and beginners can start with 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps of five to seven exercises (Clark and Twist 2007).

Dynamic warm up activity should focus on movement or strength and stability. Movement drills emphasise speed, agility, quickness and conditioning (often anaerobic energetics). Strength and stability warm up drills serve as excellent preparation for traditional resistance training or integrated head to toe Smart Muscle™ strength training (Clark and Twist 2007).

Movement warm ups

Preparing for endurance/movement activity begins with slow, controlled activity that increases to full (as required by the activity or competition) ROM and employs low-impact, controlled deceleration. Tempo is gradually increased and the relative level of intensity (speed, ROM , impact) should be level/task appropriate. As tempo increases, ROM decreases and the ‘coupling time’ decreases, which means an effort is made to shorten the time between the end of the eccentric (muscle lengthening) and start of the concentric (muscle shortening) movements (Clark and Twist 2007).

Progress movement direction in the following order:

1. linear movement

2. angled movement

3. lateral movement

4. crossover patterns

5. multiple direction change (include unpredictable/random patterning) (Clark and Twist 2007).

A dynamic warm up and progression for a world-class downhill skier will look different as it relates to speed, impact and ROM when compared to a warm up for a fitness enthusiast. For sport participation, a dynamic warm up that consists of a mix of movement, strength and balance is most effective.

Strength training warm ups

Activate the core first, moving through the kinetic chain from the ground up. Then, alternately employ blended exercises that work both legs and upper body. As the warm up advances, increase ROM and tempo, using whole body exercises and begin to integrate instability to achieve greater focus and muscle recruitment (Clark and Twist 2007).

Sample movement-based exercises

1. Power skip progression (floor)

Goal: active mobility from the ground up, through the ankle, knee and hip joints.

• set athletic ready position (feet shoulder-width apart; core braced; shoulders down and scapulae in neutral/partial retraction; ankles, knees, hips flexed; weight evenly distributed)

• hips square and oriented to intended movement direction

• perform in place and/or travel by performing an opposite knee to arm drive (photo 1)

• knees move progressively higher; maintain aligned body

• add heel lift (photo 2) or propulsion/skip (ankle extension or plantar flexion) (photo 3)

• dorsiflex in preparation for heel strike/landing

• increase ROM and movement speed as appropriate; alternate movement or load unilaterally by loading lead leg and repeating movement on one leg

• if performed in place, use a forward/backward weight shift to facilitate movement (photo 4)

• alternating knee lifts with or without heel lift or propulsion may be done, or the weight can be shifted to the front leg and the back leg can touch down lightly or not at all (photo 5).

Option: Perform entire progression utilising the BOSU® Balance Trainer (BT) as focal point with lead leg contacting the BOSU® BT, dome side up.

2. Lateral bound to stick and hold/progress to quick-couple off floor

Goal: develops and prepares athlete for transitional balance, dynamic stability, deceleration capability, and leg power.
• may be preceded with lateral shuffles (load lead leg) which are less dynamic and intense
• stand in athletic ready position
• begin with outside leg loaded, propel the body laterally, landing low in a balanced and controlled manner on the opposite leg
• as balance, control, body alignment and stability improve, progress to a quick-couple off floor; utilise tempo and rhythm changes (e.g., 1, 2, hold).

3. Lateral cross/return progression

Goal: overall body awareness and core control; progressive ROM in hips, knees and ankles; develop lateral crossover pattern.
• stand in athletic ready position (photo 6)
• moving laterally and forward, cross one leg in front of the other and maintain a low position (photo 7)
• return to start position and repeat in the opposite direction (alternating); or, travel the movement in one direction; keep hips and chest oriented front
• Progression: return to start position and step back (photo 8)
• Progression: return to start position, step back, then swing leg laterally and back (photo 9)
• from the athletic ready start position, any combination of crossing front, return to start, step back or step back and cross back can be used
• points of contact can be omitted in the progression. For example, cross front and
then cross back and lateral, omitting the start and step back positions.

Option: Perform entire progression using the BOSU® BT dome side up as focal/push off point.

4. BOSU® Ballast Ball (BB) dynamic lateral travel

Goal: overall body awareness, transitional balance, core control and progressive ROM in the torso and lower body.
• sit upright on the BB
• centre one foot and move the other leg laterally (photo 10)
• dynamically move laterally by switching the outside leg with the centered leg (photo 11)
• change tempo of movement and add arm variation by reaching through different planes of movement
Source: adapted from Twist Sport Conditioning Coach Education Program, 2009.

Sample strength-based exercises

1. Single leg balance with partner taps
Goal: core stability, lower leg activation, balance, low-level reactivity
• stand in a single-leg athletic stance
• trainer/partner applies taps to various body locations and heights
• partner having perturbations applied should focus on a fixed point out in front with head neutral to help maintain balance and alignment.

Option: Close eyes and/or perform entire progression using the BOSU® BT dome side up.

2. Partner towel row
Goal: upper body nervous system activation; recruitment of shoulder/upper body stabilisers and movers.
• two partners face one another, standing in an athletic stance, each grasping one end of a towel (two towels required)
• partner A performs rowing motion by flexing at the elbows
• partner B provides resistance by extending at the elbow in a controlled manner
• maintain an upright posture and provide only enough resistance to challenge the movement without breaking down the partner’s mechanics.

3. BOSU® Balance Trainer push-up with pressuring
Goal: core stability; recruitment of shoulder stabilisers and upper body movers.
• start prone in a push-up position, hands on the BOSU ® BT, flat side up

• perform a controlled push-up and hold a position with the arms straight or flexed

• pressure the BOSU ® BT to each side, then forward and back repeat sequence.

Option: Increase intensity by limiting recovery, bringing the feet closer together or
performing the exercise on the ball of one foot.

4. BOSU® Balance Trainer travelling push-up
Goal: core stability; recruitment of shoulder stabilisers and upper body movers; upper body deceleration capability.
• start prone in a push-up position, one hand on the BOSU® BT dome side up, and the other hand on the floor; positioning the feet wide is easier, narrower more challenging (photo 12)
• exchange your hands by walking them across the BOSU® BT dome (photo 13)
• increase intensity by ‘traveling’ with quicker side-to-side hand exchanges
• add a propulsive/explosive side-to-side travel across the BOSU® BT dome (photo 14)
• regress by performing the movement/hand exchange on the floor or using a ‘box’ push-up position (shorter lever).

Option: Increase intensity by limiting recovery, bringing the feet closer together, performing the exercise on the ball of one foot, or dynamically switching the feet during the hand exchange. Source: adapted from Twist Sport Conditioning Coach Education Program, 2009.

Creating dynamic warm up sequences/complexes

As you sequence your dynamic warm up movements based on activity requirements and individual capability, remember that many exercises can be performed in place, requiring very little space, or the movement can ‘travel’ a little or a lot.

Additionally, you can establish, for example, a box or diamond pattern on the floor and have the client perform a different movement on each of the four sides of the shape, with the idea of linking movement. This works especially well for movement-based dynamic warm ups. The diamond shape allows for angled movement forward and backward, while the box allows for forward (linear movement), backward (linear movement) and lateral movement, with the option of crossing the box diagonally or instituting random direction changes and pivots.

Douglas Brooks, MS

Douglas is the head physiologist/strength and conditioning coach for Mammoth Power Sports. In 2007 he was inducted into the US National Fitness Hall of Fame and in 2008 was honoured with the International Presenter of the Year at CanFitPro. Douglas is the author of eight books and is a Twist Senior Master Coach. To contact him, or for more information on training products or methodology, visit www.MovesIntFitness.com orwww.TwistConditioning.com

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