Getting ready for your workout should require as much planning and preparation as your training program. I see many innocent trainees doing casual 5-10 minute “warm ups” on the treadmill. But we have come a long way since the days of the standard-issue warm-up and I’m going to convince you that you can do much more for your body and your training program by taking just a few extra steps.
The 21st Century Warm-Up
Movement quality is the single most important variable in the initial stages of every client’s program. A program that incorporates strength and mobility drills which directly addresses movement quality is essential for success and more importantly injury-free training. Whether you’re an athlete, fitness enthusiast, weekend warrior, or even a hard-working couch potato, these drills should remain the focus of the start of your strength and conditioning program.
If don’t move well during your training, you might “cement” bad patterns into your movement system, which could, in turn, trigger a whole host of problems, but it’s completely avoidable with proper training.
There are many common movement limitations, muscular imbalances and asymmetries that must be addressed before a client is ready for big, multi-joint movements. A good solid program that focuses on enhancing mobility, core and joint stability will be demanding enough for the average beginner.
No matter what a client’s personal goals are my first task is to assess individual movement quality. I use the Functional Movement Screen or FMS developed by physical therapist Grey Cook and athletic trainer Lee Burton. With the information I get from the screen I can devise a pre-workout/corrective strategy that covers multiple needs.
I call this strategy a R.A.M.P. It stands for, Range of motion, Activation and Movement Preparation. This addresses all the most important variables of a great warm-up, prepares the body for more dynamic training. I “borrowed the term” from Alwyn Cosgrove, a respected fitness coach and the founder of Results Fitness.
The goals of a RAMP include,
- Loosen tight, over-active muscles
- Strengthen weak under-active muscles
- Improve functional joint range of motion
- Develop a functional dynamic warm up that will address client’s individual needs and prepare them for more intense exercise
- Improve overall movement quality and motor control (motor control means our muscles fire correctly without us having to think about it…it just happens.)
- We can’t forget…WARM-UP! You should work up a sweat during a RAMP.
Parts of the RAMP will include a corrective exercise strategy (CES) based on the clients FMS results. The RAMPs I develop will address the most common limitations and asymmetries that we see in our environment. If the client has any pain during basic movement patterns and may have an underlying injury I will refer them out.
“Put simply, the FMS is a ranking and grading system that documents movement patterns that are key to normal function. By screening these patterns, the FMS readily identifies functional limitations and asymmetries. These are issues that can reduce the effects of functional training and physical conditioning and distort body awareness” (www.functionalmovement.com).
If the client scores <14 on the FMS and has asymmetries, I would need to change gears and develop a corrective exercise strategy (CES) for this client to make sure we address the most important stuff first. Some clients don’t like this approach but it’s the smart, responsible thing to do and they will feel much better for it. If I ignore these issues and just move forward with integrating advanced exercises I will be doing this client an injustice. As Grey Cook says “we can add strength on top of dysfunction” but not without a price. If a client shows a movement pattern dysfunction in the overhead squat screen(one of the movement screens in the FMS), developing a fitness program which includes loaded barbell or dumbbell squats will more than likely cause the squat pattern to become more dysfunctional and could lead to an injury.
We work on a corrective strategy until we can eliminate the asymmetries and develop a RAMP strategy as we make progress. This can take anywhere from one session to a few weeks, depending on the client. The RAMP always has aspects of “corrective exercise” but I try to make it more challenging for client’s that have specific goals related to performance or weight loss. If you score a 14 or better with no asymmetries on the FMS we move right to the RAMP.
Benefits of the FMS System
- Improve functional fitness & athletic performance
- Establish a starting point and realistic goals
- Create a completely personalized fitness plan
- Identify dangerous weaknesses BEFORE injury occurs
- Identify and resolve movement problems
- Build lasting fitness instead of temporary ability
- Measure and establish a record of progress
It’s common for inactive or mostly sedentary people to come to us with movement restrictions that can irritate soft tissue to the point that healthy movement is impossible. Pain will undoubtedly prevent the appropriate muscles from “firing” during exercise. That’s why I put so much emphasis on making absolutely sure that your body is prepared for what it’s asked to do. I want you moving with precision and accuracy — not “pretty good”.
There’s nothing worse than watching people in the gym doing exercises they think are targeting specific muscle groups, when in fact these movements are causing major wear and tear on their joints and by recruiting secondary and stabilizer muscles to do the job of the prime movers. This MUST BE AVOIDED.
The bottom line is if you’re not performing an exercise well, you’re not using the right muscles. And if you add load to that exercise, it gets worse. It makes no sense to me to have someone do an exercise with less than optimal form. It’s frustrating to see other trainer’s working with a client that is performing an exercise with obvious dysfunction(obvious to me anyway). The trainer is clearly lazy and doesn’t want to put the effort in to correct this, doesn’t see the value in correcting it or possibly doesn’t know what strategy to take in order improve the clients movement quality so he or she can perform complex exercises with no dysfunction. Believe me, it’s not always technique that prevents the execution of perfect reps. The difficulty may lie in the relationship between muscles and the ability to produce muscular force with a healthy, functional range of motion. The only way to truly find out is via a proper screen (FMS).
The RAMP – Keeping It Simple
As fitness coaches we can drive ourselves nuts lecturing our clients on how to maximize physiological functions to get their bodies to do what we need and want them to do. I see no point in complicating things, given that the average gym-goer is already inundated with a ridiculous amount of useless info that tends to get lost in the “attic” anyway.
To keep it simple, the overall focus of a well-planned warm-up is to get your body warm, moving better and with less restriction than you had previous to the warm-up. If you can accomplish those three things, your workout will be much more effective than it is at present. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a body that is properly prepared to train.
The Top 5 Things You MUST Do Prior To Your Workout (RAMP)
- Soft tissue work, ie. foam roller, lacrosse ball or “the Stick”
- Movement preparation/ dynamic warm-up
- Movement specificity reps, ie. light squats or light bench press prior to work sets
Soft Tissue work is essential to removing fascial restrictions and trigger points in the muscle that will affect it’s ability to produce force correctly and could lead to dysfunctional movement patterns and potential injury. This is the first step of RANGE OF MOTION.
Fascia – fas·ci·a is defined as a sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs, and other soft structures of the body.
Mobility and flexibility techniques improve muscle length/tension relationships, thus allowing for a healthy range of motion and strong muscular contractions. This is the second step of RANGE OF MOTION.
Activation exercises target the muscles that can be inhibited by tight, overactive ones. Muscles like the glutes, lower traps and deep abdominals (CORE) are commonly “turned off”; we intend to turn them on. All can be “activated” by performing a series of simple exercises and stretches that target and prepare them for work!
Movement preparation is a series of large, dynamic movements that put it all together. They are combination exercises that will improve functional joint ranges of motion and common movement patterns while warming up the entire body.
Movement specificity is simply doing a few lighter sets of the exercises you will be incorporating into the bulk of your program, sometimes adding resistance with each subsequent set. I often use body weight exercises for this(ie. push-ups, pull-ups, inverted rows, squats, lunges, single leg RDL).
Here’s an example of an effective and thorough upper body RAMP strategy to prepare you for an upper-body workout. It only takes 10-15 minutes but has a huge impact.
1. Soft Tissue Work – Foam roller
4. Movement preparation
5. Movement specificity
Now you’re ready to train!
I like to set these drills up in a circuit fashion going from one exercise to the next in a smooth flow. Obviously the foam rolling would start the RAMP off and would not be something you want to cruise through anyway. The mobility, activation and movement prep drills should be done for 1-2 sets and can easily be done as a “circuit” to warm you up. You should get a good sweat going and definitely increase your breathing rate during the RAMP.
If you were to do a full-body program or just a lower only the drills would be a different and may take a bit longer. Either way it’s well worth the effort. You should look at the RAMP as part of your workout and not necessarily a “warm-up”. Now that I have laid out the foundation of a basic upper body RAMP, you have no excuse. To reap benefit a FMS should be conducted by a professional who will then work with you to develop a personal RAMP strategy.
If you’re a member of my club, Core Dynamics Gym in Water Mill than you are in luck since it’s a part of our client orientation. We will make sure that you’re effectively preparing your body for training with a RAMP of your own.
Pre-training with a RAMP strategy is an essential part of every fitness program. Consider hiring a qualified fitness coach to help you develop a targeted RAMP strategy for your needs. If you want to maximize results( and who isn’t?), feel great and have pain-free range of movement before, during and after training you MUST make a RAMP part of your program. For a small investment of time and energy you can go from having a tight, achy, limited body to a well-functioning, restriction-free machine that is ready to take on whatever you throw at it with strength and grace.
Strength For Life,