Brad Borland is a strength & conditioning specialist, cancer survivor and the founder of WorkoutLab.
We often take for granted the peripheral parts of our workout. Peripheral parts you say? What the heck are you talking about? No, I’m not trying to start a new trend in the fitness world (we have enough of those). I am talking about the all-to-often forgotten parts of training: different types of warm-ups, pre-hab and stretching among many others useful tools of the workout trade.
These components are rarely, if ever used. Look around your local gym and observe how many trainees just load the bar and start training with a heavy weight without any regard for preparation - heavy bench presses, squats and shoulder presses without proper and careful planning and cautionary action. Normally, you will also find those same individuals complaining of sore joints, pulled muscles and more than likely burn-out.
Below is a comprehensive list of these peripheral components of a workout that should actually be an integral and equal part of anyone’s arsenal during training. Taken just as seriously as the heavy lifting, these actions will ensure the proper groundwork is in place and a solid foundation is primed for the intensity to follow.
They will also help ensure longevity regarding training, intensity and general health. Give some of these strategies a try and take care of the machine you punish on a weekly basis – you owe it to yourself.
Cardio warm-up: This is the general warm-up on a stationary bike, elliptical or treadmill if you train in a traditional gym. A five-minute, moderate pace will suffice. Depending on the climate you live in and the current season, this session should only last for 5 to 10 minutes. This warm-up is simply used to raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your limbs.
Pre-hab: rolling: This can be an option for those who find they need to “kneed-out” certain tight areas, open up hips, glutes and other multi range of motion joints. A roller can be your best friend when it comes to preventing pulls during training and increasing range of motion and blood flow. By breaking up lactic acid and other waste material in the muscle, you will potentially increase your rate of recovery and prevent certain future injuries.
Simply start at your calves and work your way up to your hamstrings, quads, lats from all angles and then your shoulder girdle, traps and deltoids.
Dynamic warm-up/stretch and CNS activation: Another form of the warm-up is the dynamic warm-up or stretch which will help activate the central nervous system (CNS). This is a vitally important factor regarding strength, performance and activation during training. With a dynamic warm-up you will somewhat mimic functional moves normally with your body weight only. With your CNS properly activated your whole body will be better prepared for the heavy lifts, especially for big moves like the squat and deadlift.
Specific warm-up: Now that you have blood flowing, some pliability and your CNS activated it is time to specifically warm-up and activate certain areas undergoing training. Normally relegated for body part training, a specific body part warm-up is simply performing one, two or more sets of a light weight for a specific movement.
This can also be an escalating type of set scheme in that you will increase weight slightly while reducing reps. This light pyramid will get you ready for those big lifts by triggering muscle innervation to prime the muscle for better performance. Better performance equals more weight and/or reps!
For example, for a working weight of 225 on the bench press for 3 sets of 8-10 your warm-up may look like this: 16 x 135, 8 x 155 and 4 x 185. Now you are primed and ready to handle the heavy working sets.
Pace: To keep injuries at bay and performance at the forefront, pace is of utmost importance for several reasons. Sustaining specified rest intervals between sets can not only regulate a higher temperature in the body to keep the muscles primed for lifting, it will also keep you mentally involved in the workout.
Staying “in the game” has significant effects on performance resulting in better focus, concentration and subsequently better gains. For gains in muscle mass rest intervals should be kept between 45 and 90 seconds. For strength, go for 2 to 3 minutes.
Range of motion/stretch: Although not required for every body part or training session, regular stretching of a specific muscle or muscle group during training can be very beneficial especially for weak point or hard to grow areas. Stretching the fascia (the sheath encapsulating the muscle) can potentially create more space for fluid, muscle organelles and other growth-inducing processes. Of course this isn’t wise during maximum lifts in major compound moves but can serve well with such areas as calves, biceps, triceps and hamstrings.
Hydration: One of, if not, the most important practice during training is proper hydration. Without adequate H2O you instantly short circuit your efforts – considering that your intensity is high enough. No other substance is more important to the human body than water, so why would you neglect it at a time like this?
Just a slight level of dehydration can significantly decrease performance and send you on a downward slide for a crappy workout. Hydrate with small sips throughout training without filling your gut up and cramping or felling too bloated. The higher the intensity, the more water you need.
Cool down: The cool down is one of the most misunderstood and most likely underutilized practices after hard training. This use of cool down refers to coaxing your heart rate to come down after an intense bout, circuit or major event that required an extreme rate of intensity.
If, for example, you were performing all-out sprints during a session of HIIT and did not apply some form of cool down routine, dizziness, nausea and even the risk of passing out can potentially occur. In the former example, a short medium paced jog for a few minutes would be sufficient to help bring your vitals down close to normalcy.
Static stretching: Stretching before training: NO. Stretching after training: YES. Never perform static stretches prior to training or you can suffer decreased performance and possible injury. You wouldn’t stretch a cold rubber band that has been in the freezer without risk of it breaking would you?
Why stretch a cold muscle? After training is the ideal time for static stretching due to the muscle being thoroughly warmed up, full of blood and pliable. This, in turn, increases range of motion, speeds recovery and helps rid of lactic acid for better repair.
Specific stretches/massage: If you find yourself with chronic trouble spots such as tight hips and glutes preventing you from squatting with a full range of motion then a possibly daily stretching program (after a thorough warm-up) targeting those areas is in order. Likewise, massage is also a great weapon in the race for better recovery, repair, growth and injury prevention. This can either be self-massage for the limbs or undergoing a sport massage from a trained professional.