An effective warm up can improve your performance in your workout or sporting activity as well as prevent injuries. However, some common methods of warming up may actually increase risk of injury and reduce your strength and performance.
For example, many people still perform passive stretches before working out, which can temporarily dampen the nervous system activation of the muscles you stretch and leave them weaker for a couple of hours. This not only reduces performance in your training session but can also lead to joint instability which increases risk of injury.
Another popular way to warm up is to run on the treadmill or hop on the bike for a long, slow, low intensity cardio session before hitting the weights. While there may be some benefits to a brief cardiovascular warm up, there is no need to expend a significant amount of energy doing cardio before training. There are more effective and time efficient methods for preparing yourself for a workout, such as a dynamic warm up and core activation isometrics. Continue reading
My last few blog posts have focused on injury prevention and fixing sore joints and muscles, specifically feet / ankles, knees, lower back, shoulders, and neck. This post is a summary or culmination of each of those previous topics, which I am collectively entitling “Bulletproof Your Body”.
My hope is that this will serve as a convenient reference for those suffering from aches, pains, weakness, and / or injury. Let’s start by outlining my fundamental approach to injury management:
1. Fix muscle imbalances by addressing your weak or inhibited muscles rather than trying to stretch out the tight ones. The key is to address the root cause, not just the symptom. This is why I suggest to avoid passive stretching, and instead to employ active stretching, isometric exercise, and corrective isolation exercises. Learn all about this in my recent blog post:
2. Fix your foundation (The Feet) by doing progressive foot exercises and choosing the right footwear. Weak feet and foot issues can contribute to all sorts of issues up the chain (ie: knees, back, etc):
3. Fix your knees by following these phases of rehab, progressing from isometrics, to isolation exercises, to compound exercises, targeting problem areas such as the medial quads and glutes:
4. Fix your back: Learn how weak core and glute muscles can lead to a tight, sore lower back, and find out what you can do to fix this. Even if your back pain is “disc related”, many of the static core exercises shown here can help…
5. Fix your shoulders: Discover some common causes of shoulder pain and learn how to correct them. Of course, if you’ve had an injury you should get assessed by a medical professional to rule out any serious tissue damage before beginning any exercise plan.
6. Build a Strong & Stable Neck: Neck issues are often closely related to shoulder issues. Weakness and muscular imbalance in your neck muscles can affect the strength of your upper limbs and can also lead to pain and postural issues. In fact, the neck and the feet may be the most important areas to work on in order to get your body back in balance. Try these exercises to build a stronger, healthier neck:
7. Pain Management: Certainly, correcting muscle imbalances, restoring range of motion and function, and allowing for proper healing and recovery are keys to reducing joint and muscle pain… but sometimes you will still experience pain or stiffness from training, such as DOMS. You don’t want pain to prevent you from actively following your recovery program. Here are some tips for managing pain in it’s different forms.
8. Rest and Recovery: To adapt and grow stronger from the training you do, your body needs plenty of quality sleep and nutrition. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep, stay well hydrated, and consume nutrient dense foods, focusing on protein, vegetables, and good fats. Certain supplements can reduce inflammation and support recovery as well, including fish oil, vitamin D, and joint-support supplements containing glucosamine, such as Flex Freak.
Research has also shown that having an optimistic mindset and a positive expectation of your outcome can lead to better results. Never underestimate the power of intention and the mental aspect!
In the end it’s important to keep in mind that the body is greater than just a sum of it’s parts. We function as an inter-connected machine, not as separate, individual muscle groups. As you may have noticed going through the series of blog posts and videos above, each area of the body strongly affects other parts. Your feet affect your knees and hips. Your glutes affect your lower back and knees. Your neck affects your entire upper body.
As important as corrective exercise, warming up, and muscle activation is, the ultimate goal is to progress towards building a strong, well-balanced body by incorporating big basic compound exercises. By building some muscle and overall strength you increase your ability to take on a greater number of different physical activities while reducing the risk of injury. In the end, strength is what makes your “bulletproof”.
As in many aspects of our society, in the fitness industry there are things that many of us accept as true based on dogma rather than science and facts. An example is the persistent myth that “eating fat is bad for you”. Once an entire system of training (or nutrition) has been developed around a certain (erroneous) belief, it becomes very hard to change, regardless of how much evidence is presented. Cognitive biases are formed over time, which are inflexible by definition. This is why it is SO important to keep an open mind and to become a critical thinker!
Stretching and flexibility training is one of the aspects of strength and fitness that really seems to be dragging it’s ass. Despite the abundance of mounting research and evidence to indicate that passive stretching can lead to muscle weakness, joint instability, and increased risk of injury, there still seems to be a stubborn faction of fitness pros who won’t give it up without a fight. But if you try to argue against science armed with only your opinions it’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight.
There seems to be strong trend developing in the personal training / strength and conditioning industry involving the use of foam rollers to perform soft tissue work. This appears to be another fad which was borrowed from physical therapists, similar to when “wobble board” training became all the rage. I look at this as an example of a useful tool being taken out of context and significantly overused, to the detriment of this profession, in my opinion.
Great trainers and coaches (even some of the best) have become foam rolling fanatics, prothesizing the many benefits of raking various muscles over these rigid cylinders. In no way does this detract from their expertise or credibility, but I do think it is time to take a more critical look at the growing “religion” of foam-rollers.
The proponents of foam-rolling often describe it as a form of “self-myofascial release” (SMR). No, despite how that sounds it’s not something naughty you do in front of your computer late at night! OK, so what the heck is myofascial release? SMR is a technique intended to treat “myofascial restrictions” and restore soft-tissue extensibility. It is frequently misunderstood and often described in terms of pressure affecting the Golgi Tendon Organ which causes the muscle to relax via autogenic inhibition. Some argue that this technique relaxes and lengthens not only the muscle, but also stretches the fascia surrounding it, thereby improving “tissue quality” and achieving greater range of motion. Sounds good, right? Well, let’s look at what’s really going on here…