Stretching and Mobility: the science of a perfect warm-up

In the world of sports, every athlete is aware of the importance of physical preparation before a competition and mobility and stretching exercises, for warm-ups, have now become a common practice in every gym. But how much do we really know about the effectiveness of these practices and their impact on muscle elasticity? In this article, we’ll explore the science behind stretching and warming up and how these practices affect athletic performance.

Stretching and better elasticity: A myth to dispel

One of the main goals of stretching techniques is to increase the range of motion of the joints, improving muscle elasticity. But what exactly does “elasticity” mean? This term represents the extent to which a muscle can be stretched under a given amount of force. Essentially, an increase in elasticity translates into a greater range of motion, which is why these two terms are often used synonymously.

The Different Stretching Techniques

There are various types of stretching exercises, each with its own specific approach. Active or dynamic stretching involves contracting certain muscles to stretch others. Some subcategories include static, isometric, and ballistic stretching. On the other hand, passive or assisted stretching involves neuromuscular proprioceptive sensitivity, often requiring the help of a partner or therapist. The differences between these techniques can affect the overall effectiveness of stretching.

Stretching vs. Stretching Heating

Numerous scientific studies have tried to shed light on the effectiveness of stretching in preventing injuries and improving athletic performance. A group of researchers conducted a study to examine the impact of warming up on athletes of different ages, and came up with surprising results. They found that a dynamic warm-up, involving jumps and active movements, can have a positive effect on performance in activities such as vertical jumping and sprinting. This calls into question the traditional approach based on static stretching as the main part of the warm-up.

An astonishing study

The experiment involves female college athletes. After five minutes of jogging, these athletes experienced four different types of warm-ups:

  1. Static stretching, with five 30-second exercises
  2. Dynamic moderate/high intensity exercises.
  3. The same dynamic exercises, but with the addition of a vest of 2% of their weight
  4. The same dynamic exercises, with a vest that accounted for 6% of their body weight. The results were surprising.

Athletes who had experimented with dynamic exercise (groups B and C) performed significantly better in the vertical jump, compared to those who had only done static stretching (group A). In addition, the long jump benefited greatly from the dynamic warm-up sessions with the vest (group C). In conclusion, dynamic warm-up exercises, especially when personalized, seem to be more effective in preparing the body for physical exertion.

In the world of CrossFit, where power and flexibility are essential, warming up is a key part of preparation. In this article, we will explore a pre-workout mobility routine specially designed for CrossFit practitioners. This sequence will prepare your body to push its limits, improving muscle flexibility and joint mobility.

1. Preliminary Cardio Activity: Warm Up Your Engine 

Imagine your body as a race car. To get started, you need to start the engine with a short session of light cardio activity. A brisk walk, a gentle jog on a treadmill or the use of cardio equipment such as a rower or stationary bike. The goal here is to gradually increase the intensity until you feel a moderate increase in heart rate and slight sweating. This step is like starting the engine of your race car, preparing your heart and lungs for the upcoming workout.

2. Foam rolling: Release tension

After the cardio warm-up, it’s time to move on to foam rolling. This practice aims to release tension in the muscles that will be most stressed during training. Focus on the critical points and run the foam roller over these areas for about 20-30 seconds each. Avoid doing deep stretches before you start lifting weights; reserve them for post-workout stretching or a later time in the day. If you’re uncertain about which muscles need special attention, consider consulting with a fitness professional. Here is a general checklist you should consider: calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, latissimus dorsi and pectorals.

3. Squat Mobilization: Prepare the Lower Body

 On lower-body training days, squat mobilization is essential. Take a light weight as a counterweight and descend into a deep squat. Keep your back straight, your chest elevated, and your knees aligned with your toes. From this position, perform light movements, shifting your weight from side to side, pressing your heels into the ground, and pushing your knees forward over your toes, alternating between your legs. Be sure to push your knees outwards. This is how to prepare for a power performance, preparing your hips, legs, ankles, and your core for the upcoming workout. Also add a few full reps of squats to this ritual.

4. Push-Up Mobilization: Boost Your Upper Body

On upper body training days, start with a mobilization of push-ups. Take the push-up position and begin to perform a few push-ups, slowly lowering your chest toward the floor before pushing it up again. Make sure your arms extend fully in each repetition. Afterward, move your body from side to side with a few side push-ups. This is your time to prepare for strength, activating your upper body muscles and joints.

Next, raise your pelvis up and down in a position similar to that of the upside-down dog in yoga, then in a pose with the pelvis lowered and the chest raised, similar to the cobra pose. It further varies the position of the arms, involving the stabilizing and rotator muscles. This sequence of movements is your pre-workout choreography, preparing your torso, shoulders, arms, and back for the workout ahead.

Factors That Promote Pre-Workout Mobility

Motor Warm-Up: A specific warm-up improves dynamic flexibility by up to 20%.

Passive Heating: Passive warm-up, such as a warm bath, promotes joint mobility.

Workout Time: The middle of the day (afternoon or late morning) is ideal for maximizing mobility.

Factors That Can Impair Pre-Workout Mobility

Lack of Motor Warm-up: The absence of adequate motor warm-up can reduce mobility.

Low Ambient Temperature: Low temperatures (such as 18°C) can limit the range of motion of the joints.

Morning performance: Sporting activity in the morning after a night’s rest can be detrimental to mobility.

Fatigue and Stress: Fatigue and stress reduce your ability to manage movement and can impair mobility.

La chiave per un riscaldamento efficace

Pertanto, se desideri ottenere risultati eccezionali nei tuoi allenamenti, dovresti prestare particolare attenzione alla mobilità articolare e muscolare prima dell’allenamento. Preparare adeguatamente il tuo corpo con un riscaldamento mirato e personalizzato può fare la differenza tra una prestazione mediocre e una straordinaria. La mobilità articolare è la chiave per sbloccare il tuo potenziale, permettendoti di muoverti con grazia, precisione e controllo durante ogni esercizio. Non trascurare questa importante fase del tuo allenamento, poiché una preparazione corretta del corpo ti aprirà le porte a una gamma completa di movimenti e ridurrà il rischio di infortuni.

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