Maximize Your Training

Maximize Your Training
by Erik Castiglione

We’ve previously covered that your recovery from training is more important than your training itself. This is what allows you to adapt to what you’ve done. To ensure that you can recover, you want to make sure your training sessions are as effective as possible. And there are two things you can do in each session to maximize your training and recovery from it. Those two things: properly warm-up, and cool down post WOD.

We have a few members who are routinely late to class, and the running joke has become that they just don’t want to warm up.  I understand this mentality, and Woody Harrelson best vocalizes it in Zombieland:

“But Erik, if warming up is so important, why do you frequently do heavy lifts cold?” Well, first of all, I don’t do them frequently. Second, I’m awesome we all do stupid things from time to time. I’ve also trained enough in my life that when doing something cold, I make damn sure that I properly engage everything and maintain my form. I treat it as a test – can I summon 80-90% of my max strength at any given time? That being said, these are one-offs, rather than elements of habitual training. For habitual training to be effective, warming up and cooling down are immensely important. In fact, in the last 3.5 months, I’ve had only 1 rest day. While smart programming is part of that, I cannot overstate the importance of warm-ups and cool-downs.

So, let’s get into it. What does a proper warm-up look like? A proper warm-up should do six things:

  1. Elevate your core temperature and heart rate
  2. Decrease muscle tone
  3. Open your full range of motion
  4. Activate and stabilize this range of motion
  5. Prime your movement patterns for the day
  6. Activate your nervous system 

1.) Elevate your core temperature and heart rate

This is what a general warm-up achieves, and it can be done in as little as 2 minutes. A light jog or row is plenty for this. Elevating your heart rate and temperature lets your body know that it’s time to train.

2.) Decrease Muscle Tone

Wait, what? Isn’t getting toned a good thing? Muscle “tone” in that sense does not exist. You cannot tone a muscle; you make it bigger or let it get smaller. You can also lose the fat covering muscles to make them more visible. In the fitness industry, “toning” a muscle refers to building it and losing the fat covering it.

What muscle tone actually is: the continuous and passive partial contraction of muscles. What does this mean? If I took your arm and tried to stretch it over your head, the tension you feel at your end range of motion is the result of muscle tone. In other words, it’s a protective reflex your body has that limits your range of motion. When we train, we want to achieve full range of motion in our movements, and the stiffness we feel as a result of muscle tone prevents this. We can decrease muscle tone through some quick foam rolling – 90 seconds is plenty. If you’re getting a hamstring or quad, 60 seconds per leg is plenty. We are not attempting to regain mobility here – for that, a minimum of 2 minutes is required in each drill you use. Dedicated mobility work has its own time and place, and it’s not in a warm-up.

3.) Open your full range of motion

Once you’ve decreased muscle tone, your body will no longer resist your attempts to achieve full range of motion. So, now you actually want to pass through said ranges of motion. Dynamic stretches (spidermans, scorpions, etc.) are a great way to achieve this.

Maximize Your Training

4.) Activate and stabilize your range of motion

Last week we mentioned that in order to have an active range of motion, we need to be strong enough to stabilize ourselves in given positions. If you can’t stabilize a position, it’s no good to try to get into it. Activation drills frequently involve bands and work the stabilizer muscles that we’re going to be using that day. For example – you may notice that we frequently include band pull-aparts in our warm-up on press days. We use these to activate the muscles in our posterior shoulders, which stabilize the weight overhead. In other words, we’re now warming up the muscles that we’ll be using that day.

5.) Prime your movement patterns for the day

This one should hopefully be self-explanatory. If you’re squatting in training, you should squat in your warm-up to make sure that your form is solid. ‘Nuff said.

6.) Activate your nervous system

Your muscles contract hard because they are told to do so by your brain, through your nerves. If your nervous system isn’t firing properly, you can’t contract as hard, and you will be less effective in your lifts. Explosive work is the best for this kind of activation, either plyometrics, ballistic movements like KB swings, or Olympic lifts.

All said and done, this can take as little as 10-12 minutes. A good warm-up doesn’t need to take 20. When you’re lifting, your warm-up sets also help prime your body before you get to your work sets. This will get you primed and ready to train.

When you’re done training, there are a few things you can do to start recovering as quickly as possible from the workout:

  1. Global Foam Rolling
  2. Static Stretching
  3. Parasympathetic Breathing

1.) Global foam rolling

Pick the biggest muscle group you used during training, and spend 60 seconds rolling it out. The goal here is different from the warm-up; you’re not decreasing muscle tone. Instead, you’re promoting what’s called lymphatic drainage. Training causes muscle breakdown – it has to in order to build the muscle back up stronger. This results in fluid build-up. You can flush some of that fluid out through foam rolling.

2.) Static Stretching

Prevent the resurgence of muscle tone as a result of muscle trauma. Keep moving through your ranges of motion to achieve this, and also assist with lymphatic draining.

3.) Parasympathetic Breathing

In our post “Remember to Breathe” we talked about how to do this. Your nervous system has two “modes” if you will – the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Sympathetic is our “fight or flight” system, it’s ready for action. The parasympathetic deals with passive processes, and it’s what our body needs for recovery. We can down-regulate from sympathetic to parasympathetic through breathing. 

All said and done, your cool-down can take as little as 5 minutes. Tacking this on to the end of your training sessions will help you recover better between workouts. Couple this with a proper warm-up, make them habits, and you’ll have noticeable improvements in your sessions (assuming your sleep and nutrition aren’t complete shit, of course). 

Until next time, see you in the gym.
-Coach Erik

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