Number Six, March 2002    -    COACHING
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Coaches Corner
by Rob Wagner

Warming Up or How to Replace Your Autonomic Nervous System

When was the last time you read a famous powerlifter's warm up routine in any of the current magazines that serve the sport? That's right I asked about a warm up routine. Don't worry because I don't think I've ever seen one either. The truth is, when it comes to warming up, there isn't much written in the powerlifting world. You can find the generic "do a couple sets of 10 and then start the workout" but is that really preparing the body for what it is about to do in the workout? To answer that question, probably not.

Let me back up a bit here and talk a little about how the body works. Remember the old flight or fight response you learned about in school. This is the same response that occurs when you are startled. The heart rate, and blood pressure automatically go up along with a myriad of other reactions, which prepare the body to fight or to run for safety. Just as another example, have you ever been chased by a dog, did you notice that you got on your horse pretty quickly when you saw it was coming for your leg? The point here is that in these situations there is no need for warming up. The body is capable of creating an internal environment that allows you to do this. These reactions or reflexes are innate, nobody teaches you how to turn them on.

The problem is that some people feel that since you can handle these conditions without warming up, they can use the same approach in the gym with their athletes or themselves. This may not create the most optimal lifting situation. While the fight or flight mechanism works and serves its purpose in the world of being threatened, it is hard to create a similar scenario in training. The way we can mimic this internal environment created by the fight or flight response is by going through a warm up prior to training.

Warming up can be categorized into two separate categories. The first is called the general warm up. The other is the specific warm up. First let me explain the general warm up. The general warm up's main purpose is to elevate the body's core temperature. Now don't confuse this with the old high school days of laying on the field or the gymnasium floor and doing static stretching. The purpose of flexibility exercises is for increasing range of motion (ROM) around a joint site. If you think you are going to do this before the workout and attain some sort of permanent ROM benefit you are sorely mistaken. For ROM effects to occur stretches need to be done on warm muscles. Now many will say but when I come into the gym I am tight and after I stretch my ROM does improve. You are right, but this is not an improvement of flexibility as a whole but rather a simple increase in the muscles length or pliability over the length or pliability prior to being warm. When you do use static stretches prior to any other activity you do inadvertently warm the muscles up. However isn't it better to focus on an activity that will give you the exact results you want. Plus using static stretching prior to explosive and strength activities can have deleterious effects on performance in these activities. Simply put there are more effective ways of warming up.

The goal of the general warm up is to raise core temperature. The way that we know we have done this is by breaking a sweat. Sweat is the mechanism our body uses to cool itself down. So if there is sweat we can assume that the core temperature has elevated. Just think of the variety of ways you can create a sweat in a short period of time. Any type of cardio machine jumps into mind but not many provide activity in the upper body. Instead, I am going to suggest using Mobility Exercises. These are exercises aimed at increasing mobility or movement. These can include; stationary mobility (I have listed some of these and their descriptions below), dynamic mobility, general calisthenics, body weight exercises, abdominal work, med ball exercises and form running drills. In this instance we will stay away from the dynamic mobility and the form running since they require a space of 30 yds to perform. I suggest that you use 4-5 exercises targeting the area of the body that you are gong to train. Each exercise can be performed for 8-12 reps. The plus side of these exercises is they require minimal floor space (a platform is perfect) and they don't create a taxing feeling in the muscles you work.

Now after we have broken a sweat we need to move to the specific warm up. This is the warm up that continues from the general portion and goes all the way up to the work sets in the exercise you are training. The goal of the specific warm up is to prepare the body for the activity it will be involved in. This includes not only the type of motion that will be performed but also encompasses the speed , power or strength components of the motion. I like to provide two approaches to the specific warm up. The first focuses on warming up the specific components of the body systems without performing a large amount of repetitions of the exercise you will perform. The other approach will utilize the lift itself predominantly as the specific warm up.

In the first example, I will use the bench press as the exercise. The work sets in this workout will start at 80% of 1RM. This can either be a competition max or a training max depending upon the situation. Perform five mobility exercises for 1x10 reps each. Make sure that push-ups are included as part of the general warm up. The next phase is to focus on getting the proper muscle fibers and the nervous system active prior to starting any lifting. To do this I advocate performing some upper body plyometrics such as a clap push up and a med ball BP (see explanations below). For other lifts we could even include some light (50% -60% 1 RM) Olympic lifts (clean, snatch or jerk varieties). The reps and sets would be kept very low in the area of 2-3 sets of 3 reps for each exercise. The focus is to stimulate the CNS and the type II fibers. After completing this then go to 50% of the max bench press. Now since everyone has different maxes this will not be 135 lbs. unless you bench 270 lbs. You would perform no more than 5 reps and then go up to 60% perform 4 reps, then 70% for 3 reps and then on to the work sets. In the other example the lifts will serve as the warm up. Because there is no prior muscle or nervous system stimulation you will perform a larger volume of work in this warm up. This warm up will start at 40% for 6 reps, then move 50% for 5, then to 60% for 2x4 and then 70% for 2x3. Remember to always perform the warm up reps identically in terms of the technique used in the workout or contest. Also try to mimic the same bar speed used in the workout or contest. Blasting the bar off the chest with enough force to lift the body off the bench or to over extend the shoulders is not beneficial in preparing the body for what it is about to do.

Contrary to what most people believe there is no reason to perform sets of 12 or 10 reps during the warm up. I see a lot of young lifters that wear themselves out in competitions by doing to many reps in their warm ups. Remember the goal is to lift the most weight not get pumped up. Keep in mind, each workout should start with a general warm up consisting of Mobility Exercises. After you have broken a sweat you then move on to the specific warm up. The goal here is to stimulate the nervous system and the specific fibers you or your athletes will be using during the training session as well as introduce the actual lift itself. I hope that the ideas I have presented above will help you to be optimally prepared for getting stronger.

{Below I have listed some descriptions of the stationary mobility drills and have also provided some formats that you can try for the powerlifts.}

Mobility Drills (Stationary)
    Hydrants - On all fours, bend one leg to 90'. Raise that leg outward to the side keeping the ankle and knee in the same plane, lower and repeat.

    Side Leg Raises
      Outer - Lying on side raise top leg into air keeping it in line with leg on ground. Lower and repeat
      Inner - Lying on side bend top leg and place foot in front of thigh. Raise lower leg off ground hold position and lower

    Lying Punts - Lying on back swing one leg towards head. Alternate legs trying to go further on each swing

    Neck Rolls - roll neck in circles in both directions

    Arm Circles - Make circles forward and backward with arms. Rotate at shoulder.

    Hulas - Rotate hips in Hula dance fashion. Try to minimize knee and shoulder movement and focus on the hips.

    Extenders (Fondas)- On all fours knee bent, bring to chest then kick back keeping knee bent. Foot should travel over back pocket position on active side leg.

    Scorpions - On stomach with hands under chin try to bring right heel to the left shoulder. Alternate legs and keep chest on ground through entire activity

    Iron Crosses - On back swing right leg across body trying to reach left shoulder with right foot. Turn head away from side leg is traveling. Alternate legs and keep shoulders on ground through entire activity.

    Rockers - From seated position on ground move to plow position (feet overhead) and then return to ground in a straddle position ( feet spread wide in front of you)

    Wood Chopper - Holding a plate or med ball overhead with both hands, swing plate in controlled manner down between legs. Leading upwards with plate or ball return to starting position.

Plyometric Drills
    Clap Push up - Assume standard push up bottom position push up into air clap hands land and repeat immediately

    Med Ball BP - on back with med ball in hands on chest push ball into air catch and repeat

    Box jumps - stand in front of box of desired height. From 2 feet with no step jump on top of box and stand upright

    2 leg tuck jumps - In place jump from the ground and draw knees into chest, land with extended legs and return to air as quickly as possible
Squat Warm Up (for 75% workout)
    General Warm up
    1x10 Hydrants       1x10 scorpions       1x10 iron crosses      1x10 crunches
    1x10 prisoner squats (hands behind head body weight squats)

    Specific Warm up
    2x3 box jumps (24"-36" box)         2x3 2-leg tuck jump
    1x5 50% squat             1x4 60% squat              1x3 70% squat

Bench Press Warm Up (for 65% workout)
    General Warm up
    1x10 arm circles        1x10 scorpions           1x10 sit ups        1x10 jumping jacks
    1x10 push ups

    Specific Warm up
    2x3 clap push ups               2x3 med ball BP
    1x5 50% bench press         1x4 60% bench press

Deadlift Warm Up (for 90% workout)
    General Warm up
    1x10 extenders         1x10 rockers         1x10 hyperextensions          1x10 hulas
    1x10 wood chopper (with 10 lbs plate or med ball)

    Specific Warm up
    2x3 vertical jumps for height              2x3 50% hang clean
    1x5 50% deadlift       1x4 60% deadlift         1x3 70% deadlift      1x2 80% deadlift