Written by Ryan Brown
I often joke about some of the high school kids I work with looking like “baby giraffes” due to the lack of control they have of their body. Mobility, defined as “capable of moving or being moved readily,”
is going to be the most important factor in your ability to execute your training effectively. If you can’t achieve the correct positions, then you aren’t going to be as effective. I am of the mindset that your
training should be consistently improving your movement quality, and the warmup is the best place to make that happen.
I joke about the baby giraffe comparison, but we have all seen the person who walks into the gym and can’t seem to understand any cue that you give them. This person just doesn’t understand where their body is. Kinesthetic awareness is crucial to gaining new skills, and when a person doesn’t have it, our warmup must be designed to put them in an advantageous position to improve it.
How do we do this?
We increase their contact with the ground.
By doing so, we increase the proprioceptive input that their brain is receiving. We also increase the amount of stability they have by increasing contact with the floor. By utilizing these developmental positions, we prepare the body for training by reteaching it to move every single day. We progress from the most stable positions (supine) to the least stable positions (standing, landing, jumping). Often times we need to get people into the correct position so that they can understand what correct positioning feels like. Regressing back to a half kneeling position from a squat increases your contact with the ground, input from mechanoreceptors, and artificial stability. This makes it easier for your body to learn the correct position while performing the repetitions it takes to learn, and building the strength to maintain. Sometimes our crappy movement quality isn’t due to our lack of the range of motion – it’s because our body doesn’t understand how to control that range of motion.
The truth is that this isn’t really just a warmup strategy. Rather, this is a strategy for teaching people to move. Depending on the ability level of your clients, it could be an entire training strategy. For most, however the warmup is just the best time for us to be able to implement it.
The 90/90 position is the most stable and most basic position. With your back flat on the floor your spine is completely supported. Your feet being on the wall ensures that your pelvic floor and diaphragm are facing each other, putting you in a good position to use your abs and
get big full breaths.
In the side lying position, the body benefits from the stability of the floor to maintain a neutral spine position, and the knees can be bent to limit the requirement for hip extension and improve lumbar position.
The supine position in lying flat on your back, feet outstretched. The body benefits from this position by the floor providing spinal stability, but the feet outstretched places a greater demand for hip extension and is therefore more challenging. The demand for greater hip extension requires much more ab strength in order to maintain the relationship between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor.
The quadruped position can be on elbows and knees, or on hands and knees. It is the beginning position of the crawl. This position allows good hip and shoulder stability while demanding that you create your own spinal stability.
The half kneeling position is the first upright posture. You are forced to have hip extension while maintaining your own spinal stability and position. The other hip is placed at 90 degrees of hip flexion to aid in maintaining correct spine position.
The tall kneeling position places the same demands in the shoulders, spine, and hips as the standing position but reduces the number of joints between you and the stable surface (floor).
Finally up on your own two feet. This is the position in which most of our movements are performed. Demanding full hip extension, internal rotation, shoulder and spinal mobility….the works. Oh, and now you also must be able to maintain a stable foot, your only contact with the ground.
So, what does that mean?
Well, it works like this. You use the movement as the assessment. If they can’t perform a movement in a standing position, then you regress to a tall, or half kneeling. If they can’t maintain that position you regress further. As a warmup, you can just start at the bottom and work through the entire progression just to make sure that you have everything working the way that it should.
For example, a movement progression for a squat could be:
Supine Psoas March
Quadruped Hip Circles
Half kneeling Split Squat
Side lying shoulder internal/external rotation
Quadruped lat pull
Half kneeling press
Tall kneeling Press
These aren’t the only combinations. There are pretty much an unlimited number of exercises you can substitute in each position. What is important is (and this is where “bridging the gap between strength coach and physical therapist” comes in) EVERY SINGLE MOVEMENT MUST BE PERFORMED PERFECTLY.
If you are doing a supine psoas march and you aren’t doing it perfectly, then you are wasting your time. Supine psoas marches aren’t going to make you strong. They are used to reinforce a good movement pattern, and then to use both this good movement pattern and your own muscles to help pull you into a better bony alignment. However, doing them with a small discrepancy reinforces a poor position. Coaching these movements correctly requires a basic understanding of anatomy and biomechanics that we, as strength coaches, should all have. The better you understand the body and can establish a baseline of what movement should look like the better you can recognize the flaws in your clients/athletes position.
I am a huge Tim Ferris fan. I read the 4 hour work week a couple of years ago, and it completely changed they way that I do everything in my life; pretty much the entire way that I looked at life. He often talks about learning the 20% that will teach you the 80% of what you need to know. That’s what I feel like we have found with these two wildcards. They are your mobility hacks. Master your breathing and your foot position in all of your movements, and you will have taken care of at least 80% of doing everything correctly.
If you haven’t been watching videos and learning about teaching yourself and your clients how to breathe correctly, then you are really leaving something to be desired. Breathing is the most important thing that you will ever do with your whole life. You do it roughly 20k times per day, and it is the key to increasing core stability while lifting, running, jumping, throwing, or just moving in general. Good breathing is also the key player in maintaining good posture. When you watch our videos you will notice that the beginning cue for everything that we do is to take a good, full breath. Focusing on breathing in the sequence of belly, low back, chest, and then finishing in the upper back. Using the breath as the beginning cue for all of our corrective positions will increase their effectiveness by an estimated 10,000%. (actual effectiveness increase may vary)
Your feet are jacked up. I can say that with a reasonable amount of certainty that no matter who is reading this I am going to be correct. We are born with shoes on these days, effectively wearing a splint on our feet at all times. Your feet are the foundation for which your body rests as it attempts to resist the forces of gravity all day. Therefore, if they are wrong, then it is going to cause compensations all the way up the chain.
Structuring your Warmup
When warming up, our goal is to prepare the body for movement. That means not only do we want to improve the body’s alignment, we want to increase the body’s temperature, movement amplitude, velocity, and frequency in order to create the conditions for an optimal performance. For many beginner clients, the basic progression from floor to ceiling is going to be enough stimulus to make progress. However, when your athletes are ready for more advanced movements in their workout, we need to follow another progression to prepare the body for those more demanding movements.
Self Myofascial Release
This is the stuff that we see everyone doing all the time. There are plenty of videos on the internet with fancy ways to roll out, or dig into your nasty bits. This is the time that you can do some of that stuff. Don’t go overboard. There isn’t any need and sometimes you can get a little too crazy and cause some inflammation. I prefer just to whip out my black and decker buffer.
I want you to get your heart rate slightly elevated and increase your core temperature. In a class setting jumping rope or going for a jog is a good way to get everyone to shut up, get focused, and to break the sweat that they so desperately desire.
Joint Mobility / Lengthening
This is the area when we can do a little stretching. I typically don’t like to do much real stretching with a class. Focused stretching should be individually assessed. However, doing some light stretching on common problem areas isn’t going to hurt anything, and for some reason really makes people feel warm and fuzzy inside. I will also say that I do very little stretching with beginners. You need to demonstrate the strength to control your body in various positions before you start stretching a bunch of stuff. Gaining strength in common weak areas tends to eliminate many of your “tight” muscles by improving resting posture and relieving the muscle from excess tension.
This is where we start to introduce some of the breathing pattern stuff. I like to do this after people have already broken a sweat and have started breathing a little heavier. Once this is achieved, you can make them lay down and work on using their abs and controlling their breathing. I realize that everything is an “activation” movement. When we talk about activation, we are talking about putting yourself in a good position to ensure that you are using the correct muscles to perform a certain task. If your hip and spinal position is great, then maybe the squat is your “activation” exercise. More often than not, this is not the case and we need to revert back to more stable positions. I love to utilize things like rolling and crawling.
The active warmup is where we want to begin to increase the amplitude of the movements you are utilizing. Most of the things that we think of as activation exercises have small ranges of motion and are limited to single joints. After you have utilized those small pieces, we need to begin to start putting them together.
This is when we increase the the velocity of our movements. In real sports – CrossFit, Weightlifting, and even Powerlifting – the goal is often to move as fast as possible. We need to account for that when we are warming up to perform those activities.
This may sound like a lot, but if you keep the pace snappy and keep everyone focused, you should be able to get through everything in 10-15 minutes. This is the most crucial part of the workout, so don’t skip it, or allow yourself to be lazy in planning your warmup by just opting for a “hard” warmup, rather than one that prepares people for the activities of the day. If people are in good positions to start their workout, the subsequent training they do will reinforce good positions. If they’re in bad positions from the start, they’ll be reinforcing bad positions. You owe it to yourself and your clients to start every training session with a well-structured, productive warmup.