The goal of the warm-up has been lost over the years. The warm-up is not just designed to get you warm, but it is to prepare you for the workout or sport you are about to participate in. The traditional ride the bike or on the treadmill for 10 minutes gets your legs moving in only one direction, but sports and life require side to side and twisting actions and the body should be prepared for these movements. This is where a simple dynamic warm-up solves the problem. A dynamic warm-up stretches the muscle while you move through a full range of motion. This is slightly different than static stretching, which requires holding a stretch for 10 or more seconds while motionless, which for decades was the most popular type of warm-up.
An example of a dynamic exercise would be a walking lunge with an overhead reach. This dynamic stretch exercise engages your hips, legs and core muscles and at the same time stretches the upper body. Whether you are doing weighted lunges in the gym, or lunging for a soccer ball, the muscles involved have already been engaged during your warm-up using this exercise. This type of warm-up has been proven to be superior over just stretching before working out according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The author concluded that, “Athletes in sports requiring lower-extremity power should use dynamic stretching techniques in warm-up to enhance flexibility while improving performance.” Research using both static and dynamic stretching in the same session is positive as well.
Dynamic stretching is great for improving range of motion and working on body awareness. Exercises like side lunges and skipping require balance and coordination while also helping fire up the nervous and cardiovascular systems to get the body ready for work.
Here are a few of my favorite lower body warm up exercises. Do 10 each leg before your next workout.
Lunge with overhead reach: The forward lunge helps stretch, for most people, chronically tight hip flexors and activates the legs, glutes and hips, while the reach overhead stretches out the upper and middle back. As you do the lunge, step forward, then drop your hips. You shouldn’t try to lunge too far forward so your front knee extends far beyond your toes. After you have lunged, slowly reach overhead with the opposite arm to get a deep stretch.
Knees to chest: You can alternate each leg while stationary or do it while walking forward. Bring the knee into the chest by hugging your shin while stepping onto your toes with your opposite foot. Focus on standing tall and don’t bend over to reach the knee. Make sure it is knee to chest and not chest to knee.
Butt kickers: Start by keeping your body tall and straight. As you’re jogging, emphasize your back stride and bring your heel to your butt in an attempt to make contact between the two. If you’re able to make contact, great. If not, just bring your heel up as high as you can.
As always consult your doctor prior to starting any exercise program, and if you are unsure how to properly preform any exercise seek the advice of a trained fitness professional.
— Kyler Crouse, BS, CSCS, FMS is a personal trainer and strength coach that trains at Sierra Athletic Club and a training center instructor at Barton Memorial Hospital. Kyler specializes in performance enhancement and rehabilitation after injury. Visit www.KCstrength.com for more information.