To borrow from the late efficiency expert Stephen Covey, no one ever plans to fail, they simply fail to plan. Originally one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, this axiom also applies when creating a workout program. You probably do not have any plans to injure yourself while you’re sweating, and making the time to add mobility exercises as part of a comprehensive warm-up before you actually start lifting—what top athletes call “movement preparation” or “movement prep” for short—could help ensure that you can move closer to your fitness goals while reducing the risk of a potential injury.
A joint is where two bones meet. Every joint in the body is surrounded by muscles that produce and control movement. If muscles on one side of a joint become too tight from overuse, then it could cause the muscles on the opposite side to become weak from lack of use. This is called a muscle imbalance. Muscle imbalances can be a potential cause of injury because they can change the resting position of a joint, ultimately changing its path of motion during movement, which could cause an injury. Remaining in a sedentary, non-moving position like being stuck at a desk for hours on end can result in these types of muscle imbalances.
Eliminating muscle imbalances requires a specific approach to exercise program design. However, the right movement-prep exercises at the start of a workout can make a big difference, helping you to realize optimal results from your time spent sweating. Movement prep involves performing the basic patterns of movement in a variety of directions and at different speeds in order to activate the nervous, circulatory and respiratory systems responsible for controlling and fueling movement. A complete movement-prep warm-up program helps reduce muscle tightness, restore joint motion and achieve optimal mobility before attempting the really hard lifts in a workout routine.
Learn the benefits of movement prep
Listed below are six things you should know about the benefits of adding movement-prep exercises along with a few moves that you could do for movement prep at the beginning of your next workout:
The human body functions as an integrated balance of various systems. Exercises based on movement patterns can enhance mobility while promoting stability.
1. Your body is designed to move, and efficient movement involves numerous muscles and joints working together simultaneously. Exercise should be a function of numerous muscles working together to produce efficient movement patterns. Body-weight movements in a movement-prep program help improve how your central nervous system receives sensory input from the environment, which helps improve overall muscle activation. Optimum movement performance in your body is based on having an optimal level of joint mobility.
2. When one part of the body moves, it can influence motion at all other parts of the body. The only tissue that can produce such responsiveness is the fascia and elastic connective tissue, which surrounds every muscle fiber. A well-designed movement-prep program can enhance the elasticity and structural integrity of fascia, restore the ability of muscle tissue to perform multi-planar movements and allow optimal joint range of motion.
3. It’s important to recognize that joints in the body do not function with one fixed axis of rotation. Instead, joint mobility relies on a constantly changing axis of rotation. The muscle, fascia and elastic connective tissue surrounding a joint function to create movement and provide the stability responsible for controlling joint position while it is in motion. Optimal mobility allows a joint to experience full, unrestricted motion while controlling the constantly moving axis of rotation. Lack of movement in a joint’s structural range of motion can lead to atrophy of the involved muscles, which could fail to provide necessary support or stabilization when needed.
4. Muscle, fascia and elastic connective tissue are organized in layers. If muscle and fascia experience constant mechanical stress or tension from repetitive movements or maintaining a poor posture, then inelastic collagen fibers can form between layers of muscle tissue as a protection against structural damage. When collagen binds between these layers, it can reduce their ability to slide against one other, which ultimately alters the function of involved joints. If you want to participate in activities that require moving in multiple directions at a variety of speeds, then movement-prep exercises at the beginning of a workout can help promote tissue elasticity and optimal joint mobility. Remaining sedentary for extended periods of time and limiting your exercise program to predictable, repetitive movement patterns could result in a significant loss of elasticity, which can greatly change the function of a joint, reducing its ability to allow mobility or create stability.
5. Your body is structurally designed to be energy efficient. Specifically, it’s designed to maximize the use of mechanical energy from the non-contractile components of fascia and elastic connective tissue. Forces applied to the human body, whether external from the environment (specifically gravity and ground reaction) or internal in response to an imbalance in muscle tension, can change the shape and function of tissues, specifically fascia, muscle and bone.
6. Injuries related to the loss of joint mobility can be preventable. With the proper exercises, fascia and elastic connective tissue have the ability to lengthen and allow a joint to move through a complete range of motion. A lack of motion can create adhesions between the various layers of muscle and fascia, which ultimately reduces joint motion and restricts mobility. Many common injuries restricting joint mobility can be related to fascia and connective tissue being loaded beyond its existing capacity. Mobile joints that maintain the ability to allow unrestricted freedom of movement can mitigate stress across the entire system and reduce the risk of injury from a muscle imbalance. Movement-prep exercises at the beginning of a workout are an effective way to create the optimal joint mobility to reduce potential injury.
As it relates to exercise and physical activity, three segments of the body allowing the greatest mobility are the foot and ankle complex (actually a number of joints but will be organized into one structure for the purpose of this discussion), the hip and the intervertebral segments of the thoracic spine (again, actually a number of separate joints that function together in one unit). The joints making up these three segments of the body provide important mobility in all three planes of motion, which is essential for optimal movement efficiency. The loss of mobility at one joint in these segments, even the loss of mobility in a single plane of motion, can affect the structure and function of the entire body. If a joint loses mobility, then it could affect joints above or below it, greatly altering their ability to function.
Try this movement prep program
The exercises below are an example of a movement-prep program that could help establish optimal mobility before a workout. This workout can be used as a dynamic warm-up before a hard workout or as a low-intensity workout on an active rest or recovery day.
Perform these exercises as a circuit with minimal rest between each individual exercise, and allow for up to two minutes after completing the entire circuit. Start with two circuits and work up to completing four full circuits.
|Glute Bridge||Improves hip mobility while enhancing stability of the lumbar spine||12-15||—||2-4|
|Bird Dog||Use motion at the shoulders and hips to improve hip mobility while enhancing stability of core muscles||8-12||—||2-4|
|Stability-Ball Russian Twist||Improves thoracic mobility||8-12||—|
|High Plank With Rotation||Enhance stability of the lumbar spine and scapulothoracic joints while improving upper-body strength and mobility of the thoracic spine||6-10||—||2-4|
|TRX Golf Swing||Improves mobility of thoracic spine and hips||8-12||90-120 seconds||2-4|
Photo credit: fizkes, Getty Images