Being a trickster, flexibility is kind of a big deal. Before foam rolling’s conception, us tricksters used a sensible warm-up that increased dynamic flexibility and, quite simply, did the trick. Get it? Trick? …Well? Yeah, I kill myself. (The beauty of the blog—informal writing lulz.)
Since then, new age warm-up tactics like soft tissue work have taken center stage. And it seems like some sort of activation drill is needed for every muscle the body because apparently they’re napping at all hours of the day. Whatever. Nothing, nothing, beats the warm-up routine that I’ve cultivated over the past ten years. But be warned: no foam rolling allowed.
A NOTE ON FOAM ROLLING AND SELF MYOFASCIAL RELEASE
In the grand scheme of fitness, foam rolling is a baby. And a misunderstood one at that. While I think it can be useful, there are issues with using it as a warm-up tool.
Foam rolling doubles as a massage by sliding around soft tissue. Pressure is added on “hot spots” to break up supposed adhesions, freeing junky tissue to physiological paradise. This all sounds great in theory. But the mechanism behind meaningful massages lies in how touch and pressure mingle with the pain receptors in the body.
There are two main pain receptors: a dull one and a sharp one. The dull one is responsible for most chronic pain. Your aching knee is sent signals from these dull receptors and, what do you know, your knee ends up hurting. Most massage, by contrast, activates the sharp pain receptors by virtue of pressure. Activation of sharp pain receptors inhibits the dull pain receptors. So the momentary intense pain bullies the chronic dull pain, forcing a retreat.
There are a few issues here:
- Dulling much of anything before a workout isn’t a good idea. Didn’t static stretching get the ax because of this?
- It’s masking pain by creating pain. So it’s not really fixing much, it’s just blanketing the problem.
- It’s ignoring the fact that you’re in pain. Pain rarely blossoms for the fun of it. So by inhibiting it, you might be doing harm during your workout without knowing it.
So foam roll if you want to. But not during a warm-up.
TRICK SPECIFIC WARM-UP
Although the origin of this warm-up is rooted in tricking (martial arts, gymnastics, tumbling), it’s adapted into a generalized total body mobility routine. But beware: you may develop Chuck Norris-like kicking ability.
If your dynamic flexibility sucks, I recommend doing a “mini” routine every morning. Do both the first and second tier before breakfast (or while coffee brews). Not only will it wake you up and skyrocket your flexibility, but in just ten minutes you prime your body for an entire day of activity, greatly reducing warm-up time before scheduled trainings.
FIRST TIER WARM-UP
The first tier of the warm-up is a total body fun fest of joint rotations. Work from head to toe, moving each joint about its range of motion. This can be back and forth, side to side, in circles, whatever. Just move them all a few times each direction through their range of motion so they loosen up and lubricate. This shouldn’t take more than two minutes.
- Neck in all directions
- Shoulder rolls
- Flex and extend elbow
- Rotate the wrists
- Circle the hips
- Circle the trunk
- Butt kick
- Ankle rotations
SECOND TIER WARM-UP
Working from head to toe again, the second tier tests total body dynamic flexibility. It need not be exhaustive. In fact, stopping at max stretch is an important facet of the warm-up. Stimulate. Don’t fatigue.
Beginners will need more sets and more reps. Start at two to three sets of eight to twelve reps. But once you develop the flexibility, only one will be needed to maintain.
- Arm swings in every direction
- Arm circles
- Light trunk twists
- Standing side bends
- Side arm throws
- Front leg raises
- Back leg raises
- Side leg raises (pending good form)
If you aren’t a martial artist in any capacity, side leg raises will be funky. It’s OK to omit them and substitute them with active side split reaches, but if you’re feeling ambitious, give the side leg raises a try. Just remember two things: the base leg points in the opposite direction of the leg lift and the edge of the lifting foot should be parallel to the ground.
Now, if I were tricking, I’d do more kick-specific drills, but this suffices for most everyone not risking their joints in an orgasm of acrobatics.
THIRD TIER WARM-UP
The third tier, if used, consists of light activation exercises. So hit a set of scap pushups, bird dogs, and maybe cossack squats to further wake things up if you feel so compelled.
For those that are doing some intense athletic activity, I highly recommend an ankle specific warm-up be done here.
Think of the third tier as bridging the gap between a general warm up and a specific warm up.
FOURTH TIER WARM-UP
The fourth tier brings the specificity. So if you’re lifting weights, hitting some calisthenics and then moving into the barbell is perfect. But if you’re about to leap over a building in a single bound, things get a little tricky. Yes, I used “trick” as a pun again. Winning.
Start with bunny hops or jumping jacks, working primarily at the ankle. Transition into tuck jumps for a few reps. Again, don’t fatigue yourself. And now is also a good time to use any off the wall nervous system wake up tactics like seizure hops.
FIFTH TIER WARM-UP
The fifth tier warm-up is for those going on to practice a high intensity event seriously. In this case, the warm-up needs to be very specific to the event. So if you’re sprinting, do some build-ups. If you’re throwing, do some low intensity throws. If you’re tricking, do some basic tricks.
There aren’t many guidelines for this tier. Just go until you feel great.
While this warm-up may not be revolutionary, it sure is damn efficient. To create the best scenario for flexibility, do tier one and two every morning when you’re starving for caffeine. You will be rusty and tight at first. Just keep with it. Also be sure to stop any warm-up drill before fatigue sets in. The last thing we need is to be tired before doing anything meaningful.
You know how I do it here, drop your suggestions, love, and hatred below. Additions? Subtractions? How would you structure it differently? Do you like hot sauce? Does it give you as much gas as it gives me?