I’ll start by saying I’m usually a live-and-let-live kind of guy; this is out of character for me but I think it’s necessary.
Earlier today I said an article was garbage, so it’s required that I say why.
For the sake of the rest of the argument, let’s all agree on a few goals of a warm-up:
- Increase core temperature
- Stimulate the nervous system
- Prepare to handle training loads
I’ll construct my rebuttal so that it aligns with the points made in the article.
You can read the article here: http://www.t-nation.com/training/no-nonsense-warm-ups-for-big-lifters
1) I don’t think anyone would argue the value of warm-up sets. That’s first day of first grade shit (Ranfone, 1998-2013). But the effect of the warm-up sets is limited if there is no prep work before a bar hits the hands or back. Prep work before lifting gets the Central, and peripheral, nervous system ready to handle the specific demands of the warm-up sets. It’s not either prep work or warm-up sets—it’s both. Obviously the hypothetical kid in the article that just does dynamic warm-up work and then jumps right into his work sets is going to suck. This is a moot argument—there is no point made here; it’s a bad example and doesn’t help anyone.
2) So are we supposed to dynamic warm-ups or not? First it’s just do the warm-up sets without any prep work, but now, according to this point in the article, we can include calisthenics or dynamic warm-ups to increase core temperature before lifting? Which is it? Now the argument is inconsistent.
3) Before we get into the static stretching argument, let’s talk about what happens when we static stretch. Static stretching for less than two minutes does not affect the structural elements of muscle or soft-tissue. It can increase stretch tolerance if done consistently over a period of time. This means the brain tells the peripheral nervous system that it’s ok to let the muscle, fascia, etc. achieve that length. Most of the research on this is with stretches that last for 30 seconds or longer. The article suggests a period of 10-20 seconds. What is happening during this length of time? Not much. You’re getting an analgesic, or pain killing, effect. The muscle just feels different and nothing has really changed. Except that the muscle is less prepared to absorb force. So we are about to load our tissues when they are less prepared to be loaded. This doesn’t make sense.
In the article this point is countered by saying that common sense and a brief period of waiting alleviates the negative force absorption effects of the static stretch. So what the hell are we actually stretching for? The duration of the stretch is most likely only has an analgesic affect but, just in case it has a deleterious effect, we need to wait to do our warm-up sets. How in the world is this effective?
The next point made in the stretching section of the article talks about well-muscled lifters and them not being able to achieve full ROM with their strength lifts because without stretching because, well, they are well-muscled and sore from previous training. So, if we examine what stretching for that duration actually does, we are just using stretching to kill pain so the guys can actually move. We aren’t training anything. No tissue extensibility, no message to the brain that it can control the new range of motion with strength. Why not just slap on some icy-hot and down a few ibuprofen? What if the guys actually trained to achieve the range of motion previous to being loaded? I’ve spent my entire life in powerlifting gyms with men much stronger than I. Sure, this is anecdotal, but the ones that consistently got hurt were the ones that ignored moving well before squatting, deadlifting or benching. These gentlemen weren’t run of the mill lifters—they are guys that won IPA worlds several times. I guess you could say they are well-muscled. The healthy ones focused on the health of their joints and tissues by including regular soft-tissue work and dynamic mobility training in their warm-up. They didn’t get weaker.
The stretching descriptions included in the article—holding the bottom position of a squat and holding the bottom position of a split squat—aren’t static stretches, they are isometric holds. An iso-hold is a great idea, but are we stretching or are we doing iso-holds? They are different stimuli and elicit a different response from the nervous system.
4) Foam rolling has much the same effect that static stretching for 10-20 seconds does—it’s analgesic. But it does offer a much more effective way to warm tissues than static stretching does. Foam rolling, however, doesn’t limit a tissue’s ability to absorb force.
5) So the argument against dynamic warm-ups is that people do them poorly? That’s like telling people to stop deadlifting because some others just go through the motions as they do it. That doesn’t make any sense.
This point also says that many dynamic warm-up drills don’t have direct application to big lifts. Are we so uncreative that we can’t develop dynamic warm-up drills that have direct application to the strength lifts we are preparing to do?
I agree—a warm-up, like all other training variables, should be goal directed. So use dynamic mobility drills that prepare you to do your lifts. Like ones that help you achieve greater range of motion while also warming up your body and preparing your CNS to handle loads.
Warm-ups, in their most common application, move from general to specific. Affect the joints of the body by preparing them to do their job. Are the hips the only thing affected by squatting? Is the back the only thing affected by deadlifting? No. The body works as a system, preparing it generally to function specifically always trumps just stretching some shit because it seems to make sense.
There’s also something to be said for just moving well. As much as we all want to think about ourselves as lifters, we perform many more functions in our life other than dude that picks stuff up. I mean, I only train for 5 or 6 hours per week. That’s miniscule compared to the rest of my life. Unless you’re an elite athlete I’m guessing that you are similar to me.
6) Why does a certain level of strength graduate a person past an activation exercise? I’m legitimately unclear on the reasoning. It’s prep work that prepares the tissue to be loaded, the function isn’t to develop strength. So why does strength graduate a person past a low level exercise that prepares a tissue to develop greater levels of strength? It’s mainly a communication with the brain that a certain tissue or joint system is ready to do work.
7) Who says a warm-up that isn’t relegated to only static stretching and warm-up sets has to take some astronomical amount of time? Here’s a common breakdown among lifters that I’ve trained:
Foam rolling: 2 mins
Corrective work (if any): 2 mins
Dynamic Warm-up: 5-10 mins
Warm-up Sets (depending on the days training goal): 5-8mins (6992)