A master trainer explains why a neuromuscular warm-up may be the secret to getting results.
The warm-up has come a long way from the standard sit-and-reach — and for good reason. Scientific research has proven that performing certain preparatory movements that strengthen the connection between your brain and your body before you start your session (known as a neuromuscular warm-up) will actually improve your performance, and ultimately, deliver better results. The warm-up is now as essential to your routine as, well, your routine.
This type of movement prep enhances your performance in two ways. First, it improves the communication between the brain and the body by activating more motor units — the part of the muscle fibers that send and receive information — and speeding the rate at which they fire. The better you become at completing complex movements (think pat your head and rub your belly) the more motor unit activation you will have. As a result, you become more coordinated, so movement becomes more efficient — whether that means you’re able to run longer distances or lift heavier weights.
Secondly, a neuromuscular warm-up “wakes up” the body’s fascia, enabling you to move better and produce more force. Although once considered nothing more than a web of glue that held the body together, we now know fascia is highly neurologically active because its tissue contains proprioceptors — nerve sensors that naturally trigger movement in the body without any conscious effort from the brain (think the quintessential doctor-performed knee reflex test).
Movements that pit the body against the force of the ground (such as fast feet) stimulate these proprioceptors in the fascia, delivering a heightened sense of awareness that can significantly enhance the body’s ability to produce, absorb and react to external forces. This decreases the likelihood of injury and increases the overall ability to perform, which translates to, of course, results.
The moves below were designed to enhance both proprioception and the brain-body connection. Perform the indicated sets and reps before each workout if you consider yourself a more advanced exerciser. Others should limit neurological warm-ups to two sessions per week. Too much too fast can over-fatigue the nervous system, which can actually deplete performance:
Split Squat with Forward Reach
Start in a split stance, left foot flat on ground about 2 feet in front of right, hands at sides, right heel lifted. Press left knee forward as you reach arms in front of body to shoulder-height, palms facing, then return to start. Do 8 reps. Switch Sides; repeat.
Lunge with Trunk Rotation
Start standing with feet together, arms at sides. Step right leg back as far as you can and bend left knee 90 degrees, raising arms to shoulder height, elbows bent 90 degrees, palms down. Rotate torso to left (about 45 degrees), and right, then step right foot back to start. Repeat on opposite side for one rep. Do 2 reps.
Plank with Forward Reach and Hip Flexion
Start standing, feet hip-width apart, hands at sides. Slowly roll upper body down towards ground, then walk hands out until body is in plank position. Lift right arm straight out in front of body to shoulder-height, thumb pointing up, then lower down and repeat on left arm. Return to plank position and bring right knee to touch right elbow, then left knee to left elbow. Walk hands back toward feet and roll upper body back up to start.
Rapid Reaction with Transverse Hop
Start with feet wider than hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, hands in front of body at chest height, elbows bent, palms facing. Do “fast feet” for 5 seconds, (running in place quickly, keeping feet as close to ground as possible), then jump backwards and to the right, landing on right leg, then jump back to start. Do 5 more seconds of fast feet, then repeat jump to left and return to start. 5 more seconds of fast feet, then squat, and propel body forward for one rep. Do 2 reps.
Watch the moves in the video above, starring LA-based Pilates instructor Lia Smith, filmed in Montauk at Sole East.
Video by Dstllry.