Warm ups: mobility exercises will prepare the body to move quickly and efficiently

These pre-workout mobility exercises can give a valuable boost to competitive performance

What you do just before your workout begins can have a big impact on what you are able to do during your workout. Many athletes prepare for a training session by carrying out some routine stretching exercises, but it's important to remember that stretching helps to improve your static (non-moving) flexibility and may not do such a good job at preparing your body to move quickly and efficiently. That's why I recommend that you focus on 'dynamic mobility exercises' before every workout.

Dynamic mobility exercises during your pre-workout warm-up period prepare your body completely for the vigorous movements that make up the main part of your workout. Most sports involve forceful, strenuous activity, and mobility exercises and drills stimulate your nervous system, muscles, tendons, and joints in a very dynamic manner. Static stretching exercises, in which you're not moving around at all but are simply elongating a particular muscle or group of muscles, do have a place in your training programme, but their value and proper usage are often misunderstood.

It's probably best to place your static stretches at the end of your workout as part of the cool-down, not at the beginning of a training session. Static exercises help bring your body back toward a state of rest and recovery and allow you to focus on relaxing and lengthening the muscles that you have put under stress during your workout. Placing static stretches at the beginning of a training session, on the other hand, tends to interrupt the natural flow of an optimal warm-up and fails to prepare you fully for the dynamic movements that will follow .

What follows is a detailed description of a group of dynamic mobility exercises designed to warm you up, stretch you out, and keep you moving as you make the transition from resting to high-energy activity. In addition, I have provided two sample mobility training units that you can utilize during your pre-workout warm-ups.

Joint rotations

From a standing position with your arms hanging loosely at your sides, flex, extend, and rotate each of the following joints (pertorm six to 10 rotations at each group of joints before moving on to the next group):

(1) Fingers

(2) Wrists

(3) Elbows

(4) Shoulders

(5) Neck

(6) Trunk and Shoulder Blades

(7) Hips

(8) Knees

(9) Ankles

(10) Feet and Toes.

Progress through this sequence of rotations at a low intensity and slow speed, and make yourself aware of the motions that occur at each joint. Tune your mind into your body, and prepare yourself mentally for engaging in physical activity (picture yourself moving smoothly and powerfully). Complete the series of joint rotations from fingers to toes in no more than three to four minutes.

Continuous warm-up activity

After you' ve finished your joint rotations, move continuously at a slow, easy pace for five to seven minutes to warm up. Jogging and cycling are the most traditional exercises used for warming up, but you need not limit yourself to these two activities. As an alternative, you may alternate slow jogging with jogging backward, skipping, galloping, side-shuMing, cross-over stepping (also known as carioka or grapevine movement), skipping backward, walking while swinging your arms in circles forward or backward, and/or jogging with easy 'bum kicks' (alternately bringing heels to the buttocks while jogging). Each of these variations may be done in segments of 30-50 metres, interspersed with brief periods of normal jogging in between segments.

If you like to use seated stationary cycling during your warm-up, it may be alternated with cycling from a standing position on the pedals, backward pedaling, and standing-backward-pedaling. Other types of warm-up activities include stair stepping, treadmill walking or jogging, ski-machine usage, climbing on a climbing machine, slide-boarding, and rowing. All warm-up activities should begin at a slow pace and gradually increase in intensity. You should feel a sense of warmth and relaxation in your muscles - and perspire lightly by the end of your five- to seven-minute warm-up period.

Dynamic mobility exercises

Atter you' ve finished your joint rotations and brief warm-up, perform the movements described below as smoothly as possible, and progress gradually trom small to large ranges of motion over the course of the repetitions. Begin the exercises by keeping all swings and bends at a slow and safe speed of movement. As your mobility increases, gradually increase the speed to make them more dynamic. Please remember to stay within your own normal range of motion, but work to increase your amplitude (range of motion) and speed of movement in small increments from week to week. Don't find your limit (in speed or amplitude) by going past it and injuring yourself. Mobility training is for injury prevention and performance improvement - not injury promotion.

Please perform the following exercises, in order, from a standing position, remembering to carry out all movements in a smooth, continuous manner, without stopping or jerking:

I. UPPER BODY MOBILITY

A. ARM SWINGS (Two movement)

1. Overhead/Down and Back - Swing both arms continuously to an overhead position and then forward, down, and backwards. Repeat for six to 10 repetitions .

2. Side/Front Crossover - Swing both arms out to your sides and then cross them in front of your chest. Repeat tor six to 10 repetitions.

B. NECK MOBILITY (Three movements)

1. Flexion/Extension - Tuck your chin into your chest, and then lift your chin upward as far as possible. Repeat for six to 10 reps.

2. Lateral Flexion - Lower your left ear toward your left shoulder and then your right ear to your right shoulder. Six to 10 reps.

3. Rotation - Turn your chin laterally toward your left shoulder and then rotate it toward your right shoulder for six to 10 reps.

C. TRUNK AND SHOULDER-GIRDLE MOVEMENTS (Three movements)

1. Flexion/Extension - Slump (protract) shoulders, tuck your chin toward your chest, and drop your chest forward slightly. Then, pull your shoulders back (retraction), raise your chin up, and lift your chest while arching your back slightly. Six to 10 reps.

2. Lateral Flexion - With your arms at your sides, bend sideways at the waist to your left, and then bend sideways to the right. Repeat for six to 10 repetitions on each side.

3. Rotation - With hands in front of your chest and elbows out to the sides, twist at your waist to the left, and then back to the right. Six to 10 reps.

II. LOWER BODY MOBILITY

A. Hip Circles and Twlts (Two Movement)

1. Circles - With your hands on your hips and feet spread apart wider than your shoulder, make circles with your hips in a clockwise direction for 10 to 12 repetitions. Then repeat the circles in a counterclockwise direction for 10 to 12 repetitions.

2. Twists - Extend your arms out to your sides, and twist your torso and hips to the left, shifting your weight on to the left foot. Then twist your torso to the right while shifting your weight to the right foot. 10 to 12 reps on each side.

B. Leg Swings (Two Movements)

1. Flexion/Extension - With your weight on your left leg and your right hand on a support for balance, swing your right leg forward and backward for 10 to 12 repetitions. Repeat with the left leg for 10 to 1 2 reps.

2. Cross-Body Flexion/Abduction - Leaning slightly forward with your hands on a wall and your weight on your left leg, swing your right leg to the left in front of your body, pointing your toes upward as your foot reaches its farthest point of motion. Then swing the right leg back to the right as far as comfortably possible, again pointing your toes up as your foot reaches its final point of movement. Repeat this overall motion 10 to 12 times before performing 10 to 12 reps with the left leg.

C. Ankle Bounce (Two Movements)

1. Double-Leg Bounce - Leaning forward with your hands on the wall and your weight on your toes, raise and lower both heels rapidly (bounce). Each time, lift your heels one to two inches from the ground while maintaining ground contact with the balls of your feet. 12-16 reps.

2. Single-Leg Bounce - Leaning forward with your hands on a wall and all your weight on your left foot, raise the right knee forward while pushing the left heel towards the ground. Then lower the right foot to the floor while raising the left heel one to two inches. Repeat in a rapid, bouncy fashion for 12 to 16 repetitions before carrying out 12-16 reps with the opposite side.

Sample routines

The following routines are excellent for warming you up and enhancing your mobility before your main workout begins. Unit A is particularly appropriate before an intense training session but may be used by any athlete who desires improved mobility. Training Unit B is a shorter version of Unit A and may be used to maintain previously developed levels of mobility. Best results will be realized by performing one of the units on a daily basis.

MOBILITY TRAINING UNIT A (Developmental unit; 20-30 minutes in duration)
1. Joint Rotations (3-4 minutes)

2. Warm-Up Activity (5-7 minutes of walking, jogging, skipping, etc.)

3. Upper Body Mobility (2-3 minutes)

a. Arm Swings (2 movements, 10 reps each way)

b. Neck Movements (3 movements, 10 reps each way)

c. Trunk and Shoulder-Girdle Movements (3 movements, 10 reps for each)

4. Fast Jogging (2 minutes: 2-3 X 50-60 metres, with 20- metre walk recoveries)

5. Lower Body Mobility (34 minutes)

a. Hip Cucles and Twists (2 movements, 12 reps each way)

b. Leg Swings (2 movements, 12 reps each way)

c. Ankle Bounces (2 movements, 16 reps each way)

6. Fast Striding (2-3 minutes): 2 X 50-60 metres, with 50- metre walk recovery

7. Acceleration Runs (2-3 minutes): 2 X 40-50 metres, increasing speed throughout, with a 50-metre walk recovery

MOBILITY TRAINING UNIT B (Maintenance unit, just 10-15 minutes in duration)

1. Joint Rotations (2 minutes)

2. Warm-Up Activity (5 minutes of walking, jogging, skipping, etc.)

3. Upper Body Mobility (2 minutes)

a. Arm Swings (2 movements, 6 reps each way)

b. Neck Movements (3 movements, 6 reps of each)

c. Trunk and Shoulder Movements (3 movements, 6 reps for each)

4. Lower Body Mobility (3 minutes)

a. Hip Circles and Twists (2 movements, 10 reps)

b. Leg Swings (2 movements, 10 reps for each leg)

c. Ankle Bounces (2 movements, 12 reps)

Key points about mobility training

Train - don't strain. At first, perform all movements slowly and within a comfortable range of motion. Over a period of several weeks, gradually increase the speed and range of the exercises to make them more dynamic. This will allow your muscular and nervous systems to slowly but progressively adapt to the movements. The final result will be significant, functional increases in your mobility.

Don't forget to warm up properly before performing the dynamic movements. A short bout of continuous, moving activity will raise your body temperature, increase blood flow to your muscles, activate your nervous system, and prepare you fully for your mobility exercises - and for a strenuous overall workout.

Save your static stretching activities for after your workout, during your cool-down period. Relaxed, passive stretching prepares your muscles for the quiescent period which follows your workout.

If you're wondering why you should attempt to expand the mobility of your neck and shoulders when the 'prime movers' during your workout are probably your legs, wonder no more. Remember that your whole body functions as a unit - a 'chain' of interrelated parts. For example, if your shoulders are stiff, you won't have a quick, fluid arm swing when you are running. If you don't have proper arm swing, your legs will slow down and your workout quality will drop.

Don't forget to carry out your mobility training before every workout. Mobility and flexibility training has a cumulative effect over an extended period of time. After about four weeks or so, you should notice appreciable gains in your mobility, flexibility and ability to move smoothly during your training sessions. Best of all, you'll also notice an appreciable improvement in your workouts - and your competitive efforts!

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