Most of the athletes I work with are high school to collegiate male athletes. I love ‘guy sports’ and in particular love working with this age group. Typically, these guys are eager to get stronger, faster, and more powerful, and are willing to put in the work to get there.
However, there is one common theme amongst these athletes. Despite their efforts and enthusiasm when eating iron in the weight room, this is not the case with the dreaded warm up. Lack of focus, doing it half-heartedly, and rushing through it tends to be a common theme.
“Uggh, the warm up” they drone. “I don’t think I need to do it today”, they say. Or my favorite: “But I’m Tired.” Interestingly, as soon as we hit the main sets, the tiredness disappears…
I am obviously not doing my job in explaining the importance of the warm up (aka: movement prep) and why it will make them better athletes.
So, for all my athletes – especially those who disdain doing movement preparation warm ups – This Is For You.
My Top 3: Why Movement Preparation Warm ups are a Must
1. Tuning Into and Preparing Your Body (and Mind)
This is the time to turn the switch. Lose the distractions and focus on being an athlete. Focus on how you are feeling.
Are you, for instance, feeling good today or stiff and sore? Your body may feel differently than it did during the previous session. It could be from sleep patterns, stress level, the previous session, or even what you ate. If you have been fighting a cold, for example, you may feel lethargic. If you are on a good roll, you might feel extra energetic.
If you are feeling stiff and sore, you may want to tone down the session if you are still feeling that way after movement prep. But sometimes a good warm up literally works the soreness out. There have been times I felt terrible at the start of movement prep only to have an amazing session once everything was activated…a trait that is fairly common amongst athletes.
Programs are planned but not written in stone. Think of Movement Preparation as an opportunity to Tune Into and Prepare Your Body so it Performs Better During the Work Ahead. This also allows you to make some modifications that is best for you that day – perhaps holding back a bit or hitting it a bit harder.
Being Able to Focus and Understand Your Body Will Make you a Better Athlete.
Example: Watch elite sprinters before a 100m race. It’s not unusual to see them at the track up to two hours before a 10sec race, beginning to prepare their bodies and revving their engines so that when the race begins, everything is firing and ready to blast.
2. Improves Mobility (Movement-Specific Flexibility) and Stability (Balance)
Just about any sport movement is a complicated movement pattern, which require an athlete’s body to work as a single integrated unit – whether it is sprinting, throwing, swimming, tackling, hitting, or lifting….So in order to get the most out of a training session, athletes need to prepare specifically with functional movements. Think stability and mobility, the cornerstones of virtually every movement in sport. For example, when you sprint, one leg needs to balance (stability) while the other leg moves to its maximum range of motion (mobility). If mobility, stability, and fundamental movement patterns are under-par, your strength, power, and sport skills will also be under-par.
If you lack mobility, other muscles will make up for it…compensating. This makes you more vulnerable to injury and wastes energy. If you tend to lean forward during your squat, for example, you likely have restricted ankle and/or hip mobility. Practicing the squat alone will likely NOT make you better if you lack sufficient ankle or hip mobility. Until the underlying problems are corrected, you will never squat as well as you could and worse, you can get injured. Injury Prevention and Performance go Hand In Hand.
If you lack stability, your body has to re-stabilize itself instead of putting the energy towards virtually any sports skill.. Balanced athletes are stronger and more powerful. Doing your mobility and stability drills during the movement preparation warm up both prepares your neuromuscular system for the work ahead and will, over time, make you more mobile, stable, and move better. Athletes That Move Better Play Better.
An athlete with sufficient mobility and stability can throw faster, further, more accurately.
An athlete with sufficient stability can gain those extra yards after being tackled.
An athlete with sufficient mobility and stability can run faster.
And on and on…get the picture?
Having Sufficient Mobility, Stability, and Movement Patterns Will Make You a Better Athlete.
Example: Watch your favorite performers at the NFL Combine 40-Yard Dash. Everything looks fluid and smooth, yet “tight.”
3. Helps Correct Weaknesses and Left/Right Asymmetries, Prevent Injury, and Improve Biomechanics
Poor biomechanics force an athlete’s body to compensate and recruit muscles unnecessarily. If you perform repetitions with a compensatory movement pattern, your body will hardwire that movement pattern. Such little mistakes may not hurt your performance immediately, but over time they will both increase the likelihood of injury and ultimately, prevent you from reaching your potential. By incorporating movement prep exercises and working on your weak links, your fundamental biomechanics will improve.
Does one side feel tighter than the other? If one side feels tighter, you can do extra mobility work on that side. If your right shoulder is feeling ‘crunchy,’ for example, let your coach know as modifications may be required. This is the time to catch onto those little annoyances and take action before they become a major problem.
Tip: Your movement prep baseball warm up (or for any sport) should be specific to what you will do that day. It should differ depending on whether you are doing strength training, speed work, or a throwing workout. Remember, everything should have a purpose and fulfill a function.
This post comes from The Baseball Zone colleague, Tammy Kovaluk, owner of Kovaluk Sports Conditioning in Victoria, B.C.