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by Bill Starr
Photography by Michael Neveux
How Warming Up and Stretching Can Boost Your Size and Strength
uman beings never cease to amaze me. Athletes who watch their diets religiously, take an abundance of supplements, make certain that they always get plenty of rest and plan their weekly workouts to the letter frequently walk into a gym and start lifting without doing anything to prepare their bodies for the work ahead. More often than not, they leave the gym immediately after they’ve completed their final sets. The idea of stretching those tired muscles and attachments never crosses their minds. Neglecting the disciplines of proper warmup and stretching is commonplace, and it’s typically the cause of nagging dings or more serious injuries—problems that halt progress and could have been easily avoided by spending a bit of time and very little energy before, during and after the session. Warming up and stretching aren’t the least bit difficult. That’s not why most athletes skip doing them, though. The reason is that they don’t think they’re really beneficial—or they’re simply lazy. I believe, for the most part, it’s laziness. There’s abundant evidence that both disciplines are extremely beneficial to anyone who engages in physical activity, even undemanding activity, but there’s a good deal of confusion about how warmup and stretching benefit the athlete.
184 MAY 2005 \ www.ironmanmagazine.com
www.ironmanmagazine.com \ MAY 2005 185
riding a stationary bike. I start with standard situps. Skipping rope. but they’re always less demanding than those done later on in the program. as long as it meets the criteria I presented. In the first stage of warming up I’ve found it useful to focus on my trunk. The list of possibilities is extensive. The warmup process has two stages. an athlete getting ready for a practice session on the wrestling mat would do a set of warmup movements different from Warming Up and Stretching 186 MAY 2005 \ www. In fact. They’re both important to every athlete. and the leg flexors play a major role in that movement. respiratory rate and body temperature and improve the mobility of your joints.com Model: Amy Lynn . I knew an athlete with a background in gymnastics whose warmup activity of choice was walking lunges. At the first stage of warming up. I like to do a set of situps and a set of either reverse hyperextensions or regular back extensions as part of my warmup regimen. Since I push both the ab and lower-back work to the absolute max. walking on a treadmill. bent-over twists and side-to-side bends.Before & After A warmup is any exercise that elevates your core temperature. but I want to hit my leg flexors. An effective warmup routine doesn’t have to be complicated. the rest of my body follows more readily. to perform any exercise that helps elevate your body’s core temperature. but they’re two different activities and provide very different training benefits. Model: Skip La Cour Many think that doing some stretching prior to exercising serves the purpose of warming them up as well. it really doesn’t make any difference what activity you select. and once my trunk is warmed up. I use that part of my body in every physical activity. including my lower back. calisthenics or even something as basic as stepups on a low bench will get the job done. I’m also preparing my legs. it’s often assumed that they do the same thing for your body. Not so. when your muscles are warm. In other words. Keep in mind that warmup exercises aren’t necessarily easy. I do standing twists. you need to do much more to ready your body if you’re planning to move some heavy weights. heavy pulls. Extensive stretching is best done after your training session.ironmanmagazine. the movements aren’t cakewalks. To warm up is just what the words imply—that is. yet they’re not even close to the effort I have to put in on squats. For example. I’ll take a moment to explain why I do situps rather than crunches. At the second stage. however. the simpler the better. Any series of exercises that gets you huffing and puffing and makes you break a sweat will fill the bill. I finish off with a set of hyperextensions or reverse hypers. The first-stage goal is to increase your pulse rate. While I’m flushing blood to my abs with the situps. Since stretching and warmup exercises are so closely related. Merely stretching a muscle or joint isn’t sufficient preparation for a heavy session in the weight room. I realize that situps involve the leg flexors much more than crunches do. The first exercise in my routine is always squats. and I’m ready for the next stage of the process. It must be done before you proceed to more strenuous physical activities. So I do a series of movements that work the various areas that make up my midsection. benches or inclines. using a stick. While stretching your calves and hamstrings may be enough if you’re only planning on walking. you want the warmup movements to be specific to the activity you’re about to do. Wrong again. Then.
but not to the extreme. John Gourgott was so flexible in his shoulders that he could rotate a stick from overhead to his lower back while holding it closer than shoulder width. The first stage of the warmup is to break a sweat. You may wonder why I bother with stretching and warming up the shoulders for a hip and leg exercise. In cold weather I add some front and lateral raises with dumbbells to make sure their shoulders are well prepared. the longer the warmup session should be. a guideline set down by the coaches of the European weightlifters in the 1960s. In the summer and fall it did seem a tad foolish to bother with warming up. usually a section of broomstick. leg curl and adductor machines. For example. and athletes involved in those sports should spend more time stretching. That idea applies to weight training as well. that they use to help loosen their shoulders before snatching or jerking. shoulders and wrists. Most days the temperature hit 100-plus degrees and didn’t drop much at (continued on page 192) Warming Up and Stretching . The Olympic lifts require a much higher degree of flexibility. it adversely affects the squat. Hamstrings get most of the attention as a rule because that group always seems to tighten the quickest. Bodybuilders who are planning to work upper body should spend an adequate amount of time making sure that their shoulders. one set of 20 Model: Ken Yasuda reps each on the leg extension. If power cleans or power snatches come first in your routine. and they ignore the upper body. I also have them work their shoulder range of motion with a stick or towel or while holding onto a squat or power rack. For almost a year. The gym was frequented exclusively by powerlifters. Dr. I have my athletes. Stretching enters the picture in the second warmup phase. Well. They do a circuit. The stick can also be used at home for further shoulder flexibility enhancement. the shoulders play a major role in squatting. male or female. chest and arms are warm and stretched. as too much stretching can weaken tendons (see “Steel Cords” on page 166). I trained at Doug Patterson’s Metro Athletic Club in Grand Prairie. and when it does. those of a basketball or football player.com given attention before you start lifting. a fact that a large number of powerlifters and strength athletes tend to overlook. and a sprinter must do more warmups than a jogger. I never saw a single one of them do any form of warming up or stretching. quickness and coordination.Before & After Some sports require more flexibility.ironmanmagazine. Common sense dictates which muscle groups and joints should be 188 MAY 2005 \ www. and it’s integral to the process. Olympic lifters should set aside 20 minutes for warming up and stretching. all of which a thorough warmup will enhance. Since squats come first in all of my programs. In lieu of a stick. Texas. While I trained there. a towel or length of clothesline will suffice. alternate mild hamstring stretches with light resistance exercises. it’s for the hips and legs. The reason you want to wait until after you’ve completed the first warmup phase before you stretch is simply that warm muscles and attachments respond better than colder ones. If they do any warmup at all. and both are easier to carry around. Bodybuilders and powerlifters don’t have to spend nearly as much time warming up and stretching as Olympic lifters. A pole vaulter will warm up longer than a long jumper and so on. Most Olympic lifters own a long stick. a jogger needs to prepare his body more than a walker. as well as for shadow lifting. The more complicated the athletic event. pay special attention to your back. It’s still valid.
Before & After Lunges. they had much less pain than usual. though. Knees and ankles should be well primed for barbell squats. there’s a tremendous amount of stress placed on both your shoulders and elbows. It was during and after the squats that the pain was the most severe. for example. several lifters approached me and asked if I knew of anything they could do to ease the pain in their shoulders and elbows. Eventually. can be a good warmup for your lower body. They were skeptical. but not for long. A couple even resorted to getting cortisone shots for their aching shoulders. After the first workout where they warmed up their shoulders and stretched them.and lower-body exercises. People just do not appreciate being told they’re doing something stupid. added that it didn’t make much sense because their shoulders and elbows weren’t being worked during the squat. I advised them to keep using the muscle rub and encouraged them to stretch their shoulders and elbows between sets of squats. I explained that their shoulders and elbows were very much involved in squatting. and you’re doing it over and over on cold muscles and attachments. It’s much like doing an isometric contraction.ironmanmagazine. They were slapping on muscle rub by the gallon.” “What should we do?” came the obvious question. which every powerlifter in the gym did. They went on to inform me that the benches and deadlifts didn’t bother them much. especially when the bar is placed very low on the back. and within a week most of them were pain free. They Warming Up and Stretching Model: King Kamali (continued from page 188) Model: Noel Thompson .com Shoulder flexibility is important for many upper. Sore elbows and shoulders became chronic problems for almost every member. I’ve learned through experience to wait until I’m asked before giving out any advice. things changed in a hurry. Their neglect of warming up and stretching didn’t bother them as long as the weather stayed hot. When those blue northers came racing down out of Canada in the winter. then take the time to stretch them before going to the squat rack—a set or two of lateral or frontal raises and presses with dumbbells for 20 reps. if you don’t go too heavy. Shoulders and elbows too. Model: Steven Segers \ Equipment: Powerblock selectorized dumbbells night. and wrap sales soared. I suggested that they start doing a few light warmup exercises for their shoulders. “When you lock the bar down on your back. Of course some had irritated their shoulders so badly that the only remedy for 192 MAY 2005 \ www.
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Ballistic stretching is a rhythmic. Static stretching is the best type and consists of placing some bodypart in a stretched position and holding it there for a length of time. For me it’s shoulders. One note of caution concerning stretching that comes under the category of too much of a good thing. I don’t skip stretching altogether. Before & After Three Types of Stretching and the Stretch Reflex There are three types of stretches: passive. as it aids in gradually resynthesizing lactic acid. additional stretching—the warmdown—which is most valuable for long-term progress. it’s never forced. Warming up and stretching do all those things.Warming up our core—lower back and abdominal region—is extremely important for peak performance and injury prevention. If some supplement company offered a pill that guaranteed you a fuller range of motion and more Model: Jonathan Lawson Warming Up and Stretching productive workouts. helped reduce the risk of injury and facilitated recovery. When you force a stretch. Stretching should not be painful. they should get special attention. you activate the stretch reflex. I’ve found that my body is very responsive to being stretched right after a hot shower. Ease up a bit. as it’s potentially risky. An example is when your training partner pushes gently against your back while you’re sitting on the floor to stretch out your back and hamstrings. Stretching after a workout goes a long way toward alleviating muscle soreness. So don’t go nuts and overdo it. and continue to hold in that more comfortable position for the desired count. That brings me to the stretch reflex.ironmanmagazine. Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. ballistic and static. Most athletes forgo the warm-down and instead complete their workouts. However. you’d buy it at any cost. Some recommend holding for only 20 seconds. let the stretched muscle or muscles relax somewhat. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive and Defying Gravity. Use more extensive stretching after the workout.com \ MAY 2005 197 . Everyone has certain areas that tighten more than others. Several studies have shown that excessive stretching can lower your performance level and result in muscle damage. grab their gym bags and leave. If I still feel overly tight later on that night. which is very beneficial in preparing you for your next session. now is the perfect time to start. I confess that I’m guilty of leaving the gym without stretching as well. IM www. hamstrings and calves. If you experience pain during a stretch. Static stretching is done gently. 45 seconds to a minute. bouncing motion and shouldn’t be done. If you haven’t been including them in your program. A stretch is passive when someone assists you with your stretching movement. that’s the stretch reflex telling you to back off. removing waste products and relaxing fatigued muscles by releasing congested blood. a built-in safeguard to keep you from harming your muscles by overstretching them. and they’re free. and the benefits of the discipline cease until you let off just a bit. but I believe longer is better. I stretch while watching TV. It should be soothing.
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