Quests. Achievements. Personal Records. Leveling Up.
These are the things that we Fitocrats love. We see progress by lifting more, running faster, swimming farther. We keep tracking and as we change ourselves, the things we lift lift us.
Rather than step under the bar or onto the bike the second you’re ready, each and every workout that we complete should include some level of warm-up that allows our body to acclimate and adjust to the exercise we’re about to participate in. There is vast variety between the workouts that Fitocrats log every day, and while there’s diversity in our movements, we have very similar needs when it comes to preparing for exercise.
The Joint by Joint approach, a construct popularized by Gray Cook and Mike Boyle, simplifies the complexities of the body that you’re currently enjoying by addressing the unique mobility and stability needs of each joint. In particular it points out that our joints actually alternate between a need for stability and mobility as you travel up or down the kinetic chain.
Each of our joints require mobility and stability, but they tend to be much happier when you focus on one or the other. A hip joint with limited mobility, for example, may lead us to draw on mobility from our lower back or knees, which can lead to pain and/or injury. Do we want pain or injuries? Didn’t think so.
Our handy skeleton chart is showing us that our ankles, hips, and mid back are happiest when they’re mobile, while our knees, lower back, and neck are happiest when we train them to resist movement. If you’re wondering what that means for you, I have an answer.
We can address our inherent movement needs with an appropriate warm-up that properly prepares us to move better, feel better, perform better, and look awesome naked. If we took a formal poll, that includes pretty much every exercise goal that we have. An appropriate warm-up can make exercise more enjoyable while reducing our injury risk and improving recovery, which will universally help our goals.
Throughout this warm-up sequence, it’s essential to maintain tall posture, limiting rotation/flexion from the lower back and keeping the knees over your toes. This will help keep those joints happy, and ensure that you’re moving from the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. We intuitively know what looks dangerous, but our bodies are fantastic at compensating to easier patterns. That’s why we have to keep an eye on our knees and our backs, which may have a propensity for returning to more habitual movements.
Our body will naturally collapse into itself to do less work. That’s why you see knees coming in during squats, and backs rounding forward during deadlifts. As great as these exercises may be, they’re dangerous when performed with poor form, so movement preparation is paramount for safe training. As you warm-up and prepare to squat, your knees should be over the middle of your foot, not towards the inside of it.
Not So Awesome Super Awesome
Developing stability through the lower back is best done by resisting motion, not creating it. While we’re focusing on moving from the hips and thoracic spine, we focus on minimizing movement through the lower back and maintaining a neutral spine. This is certainly a quality over quantity moment, with the focus being on movement from the hips or mid-back. It sounds simple, and it is; resisting movement during your warm-up will prepare you to maintain that position during your workout. If you’re deadlifting, for example, maintaining a neutral spine during your set should keep your back happy. Practice this during your warm-up, and you’ll be more likely to rock your set-up when you lift:
We may be focusing on controlling movement from the knees and lower back, but we’re also focusing on creating movement from the upper back, hips, and ankles. Just as a baby begins to move from the center of their outwards, we’re going to try to do the same thing. Let’s start with something that you may not have expected, which is barely moving at all. We’re going to breathe.
Practicing a diaphragmatic breath, commonly called a belly breath, is important for keeping your lower back stabile and healthy, and it can help reset your body and mind for the workout ahead. Most people will find this the most comfortable on their backs with the same side arm and leg fully extended:
Or on their stomach with what’s known as the Crocodile Breath:
After 1-3 minutes of that relaxing, focused breath, we’ll move to our hands and knees to do a Quadruped Rockback, which aims to open up the hips while reinforcing that neutral spine position. These can be done for 6-10 reps/breaths, during which you’ll focus on spreading the hands and knees away from each other during repetition, and only moving as far as possible before losing that back position.
You’ve rocked those and now you’re ready to twist; the Quadruped Thoracic Rotation, to be exact, which focuses on appropriate range of motion in the thoracic spine. Remain on all fours, rest on one forearm flat on the ground, and gently place one hand on the back of your head. Look towards your moving elbow, and inhale while rotating that elbow towards the ceiling. Pause, then slowly exhale while returning your elbow to the ground.
Let’s move from all fours to a push-up plank position, from which we’re going into a drill that requires movement from the ankles, hips, and upper back. The Stationary Spiderman with Reach allows you to multitask from one location, which may be necessary in a crowded commercial gym. Begin in a push-up position, creating as much length between your head and heels as possible. Bring one foot up to the hand on the same side, then reach upwards at a 45˚ angle, turning as far as your upper back allows. Return your hand to the ground, replace your foot, and repeat on the other side.
Once the Stationary Spiderman is completed, it would behoove the most of us to include an additional stretch that covers the posterior chain from the feet all the way to the hands. A dynamic downward dog stretches the back of our leg, butt, and upper back, and is perfect for those of us who spend most of our work day sitting at a desk and using Fitocracy…or doing work. You’ll start in a push-up position again, and then drive your hips towards the ceiling above you. Reverse the motion before your lower back begins to flex; it should look more like a pyramid than an arch.
The downward dog stretches out the back of our body, and most of us will also benefit from a stretch on the front side as well. Find a wall and a comfortable pad, and perform a half-kneeling rock, which addresses your ankles and your hips at the same time. Reach your head towards the ceiling, which helps create tall posture and engages the abs and the glutes. Slowly rock forward, stopping before your front heel comes off the ground, or your hips begin to sag. Return to the starting position, reset your posture, and repeat 6-10 times before switching your legs.
We progressed through this warm-up from the middle of our body out towards our ends, and from the ground we slowly moved towards a standing position. This approach lets us streamline the warm-up process while addressing our natural development of movement, from the ground to standing.
In no way is this-an all-encompassing warm-up routine. We each have our own distinct movement patterns and habits that we must address in our training so that we can reach our personal goals. Instead it provides a framework for where to start the warm-up process, and gives you the opportunity to move better within your body, so that you can better enjoy the things you love. Warm-up, kick ass, and level up!